Synthetic Marijuana Ban

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The Arizona House of Representatives passed an emergency bill aimed at banning the sale of synthetic marijuana. Representatives Amanda Reeve and Matt Heinz discuss the bill.

Ted Simons: Earlier today the Arizona House of Representatives passed an emergency bill aimed at banning the sale of synthetic marijuana known as spice. House bill 2167 now awaits action by the senate. Here to tell us about the bill is two of its sponsors, Republican representative Amanda Reeve, she's a paralegal from Phoenix, and Democratic representative Matt Heinz, he's a doctor from Tucson. Good to see you both here. Thanks for joining us. Let's start with the defining terms. What is spice?

Amanda Reeve: Actually spice is this incense that's being sold in smoke shops, and it has this chemical that is sprayed on it so people are smoking the incense, so there's 10 chemical compounds, there's actually probably more than that, Matt can jump in at any time, because he knows some of this a little bit. But there's 10 chemical compounds that we're banning that can be used to be sprayed on this incense or these leaves and you can smoke it. It's marketed as incense, but it's a bad, dangerous drug.

Ted Simons: How dangerous is this drug?

Matt Heinz: In my practice at the Tucson Medical Center, I've actually admitted patients to the hospital who have ingested these toxins, these compounds, for observation. Because it's an unpredictable compound. We don't even know what's necessarily in it. And the effect can range from seizure like twitching of the extremities, to persistent nausea and vomiting, headaches, blurred vision, in one particular case the gentleman I admitted, for example, couldn't actually speak. He became aphasic as a result of ingesting this compound. Yet the three friends that he had who brought him in for emergency medical services were unaffected.

Ted Simons: Interesting. So let's get to the bill now. What does the bill do?

Amanda Reeve: The bill bans 10 chemical compounds that are known to the -- to make up the spice, and it provides our law enforcement to actually enforce being able to prosecute and enforce on these.

Ted Simons: Are these 10 chemical compounds that are used for other things though? Is there a danger that some other benefits might be lost in all this?

Amanda Reeve: No. Actually, as a matter of fact, we -- bill Montgomery, his office and the -- the Arizona department of public safety's crime lab personnel work order drafting the language for this bill, and they left out one compound, we were going to put down 11 originally, they ended up leaving one out because there has been proven that this one compound has been used in other ways beneficially. So the 10 on the list are not -- there's no use for them beneficially of any kind. So that's why they're on the list because they're nothing but a dangerous --

Matt Heinz: I think it's important to point out these are investigational compounds that were never intended for consumption by humans or by anyone; by any creatures. So these were never intended to be smoked, and the stealth marketing business related stealth marketing is unacceptable and provides for this public safety risk.

Ted Simons: So if I own a smoke shop and I have this stuff on the shelves, and the stuff has been selling, this law says get that stuff off the shelves?

Matt Heinz: Absolutely.

Amanda Reeve: Exactly. Yes.

Ted Simons: Just like that?

Matt Heinz: Yep.

Amanda Reeve: Absolutely. As soon as the governor signs the bill, that's what will happen.

Ted Simons: Again, drug enforcement agency has already had a one-year moratorium on five of these things. You're saying now 10. Explain why this bill is necessary if the DEA is already addressing it?

Amanda Reeve: Well actually the DEA only put five, and it has not gone into effect yet. That has not happened yet. And the reason why this is important is because even though the federal government may ban something, it doesn't give the state, local authorities the ability to prosecute and enforce the laws necessary. So that's why we have to do it at the state level to make sure they have that ability.

Ted Simons: As a doctor, obviously this is something of major concern. This thing went through the legislature faster than almost anything except for what happened down in Tucson. But in terms of speed, this moved fast. Is it moving fast as far as what you're seeing? Was this a problem even two years ago, five years ago?

Matt Heinz: The amazing thing, it wasn't. One of the first experiences I had in the hospital, admitting that 21-year-old gentleman I referred to before, was actually in the late part of May, as I recall. And I had heard some stories that this was an issue sweeping through especially college and University towns, the target age group for these -- for the folks that market this is of course about 17-25 years of age. And I started seeing it in the emergency department, contacting the poison control centers, and they started accumulating reports of ingestion of what was being build as a legal version of marijuana for all these unexpected and unpredictable side effects.

Ted Simons: What kind of reaction are you getting from law enforcement on this bill?

Amanda Reeve: 100% support. They're actually -- they've been at all the stakeholder meetings, they been working with us very closely on this. We have 100% support on this.

Ted Simons: Is there a concern, and this is -- I know this may not make sense initially, maybe it does, is there a concern that by banning this, by banning anything, you are arousing curiosity? You are only stimulating interest in something like this?

Matt Heinz: You know, that certainly is a potential, because here we are talking about it on the air. But I think it's important to educate, especially our young adults about the dangers. This is not marijuana. This is not safe. And if it's highly unpredictable and having it banned, again, allows our law enforcement officials to have the tools to make -- to secure this product away so to make sure it's not on the shelves.

Ted Simons: The idea of education with a ban or maybe education more so than a ban, some would say the minute you ban something, all of a sudden you make it nice and shiny fore a lot of folks. What do you think about that?
Amanda Reeve: Actually, right now we're seeing reports that are showing us the younger children are very -- they're already experiencing this stuff. They're out there and using it thinking it's a safe form or legal form of a dangerous drug. And it's not. There's nothing safe about this. So I don't know -- I think even people who are using it are finding they don't ever want to use it again. That's what we're hearing. So we need to educate them and let them know this is not safe. There's grave -- there are really serious risks with this.

Matt Heinz: Multiple constituents have actually, young constituents have contacted my office and I'm sure representative Reeve's office as well, saying, thank you , thank you both for doing this, we used it, didn't have a great high, had a horrible experience, and then my friend went through this, or I went through this. And so we actually have people who are testifying to that.

Amanda Reeve: We're learning new horror stories all the time, trust me.

Ted Simons: All right. Well thank you both very much for joining us tonight on "Horizon."

Amanda Reeve: Thank you.

Ted Simons: My pleasure.

Amanda Reeve:State Representative;Matt Heinz:State Representative;

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