Spice is Not So Nice

The legal synthetic ‘weed’ that kills

As any republican with truly conservative beliefs will tell you, government intervention leads to negative consequences. In the case of prohibition, it leads to black markets that, without the option of regulation, create more harmful scenarios than their potentially legal analogues.

There is perhaps no greater example of this in our current events than that of marijuana prohibition and the consequent market for a dangerous synthetic called "spice."

It's the same argument the right often uses to keep their fingers tightly wrapped around the triggers of their beloved assault rifles: "If you make it illegal, then only criminals will have them leaving law-abiding Americans in a dangerous situation."

Prior to the classification of spice as a Schedule I drug by the DEA in 2013, this was very much the case concerning the synthetic cannaboid, a potentially deadly yet legal alternative to the still very illegal threat posed by marijuana.

Since then, however, in lieu of a less-dangerous, legal substitution, hundreds have been turning to the easily-acquired imitation marijuana—an unintended consequence of the continuing federal ban on recreational marijuana.

Unlike marijuana, however, this synthetic blend of chemicals—often made by tossing them in with various herbs in a cement mixer—has directly contributed to more deaths than marijuana ever has. (Still zero, by the way.)

These deaths are the result of inconsistent doses of the chemicals used in the manufacture of spice due to its inconsistent nature.

A recent example of this negative consequences comes from the surprising discovery by DEA agents of a spice lab in Maricopa county that used Fentanyl to lace its product.

"A very small amount of this can cause overdose deaths," DEA Special Agent Doug Coleman said. "You could get a leaf with 50 micrograms on it while another leaf could have two on it. If you get the one with 50, you're a goner."

The discovery came a little more than a week before a multi-state raid by the ATF, FBI and DEA in Tucson, Denver and Long Beach, Calif.

The raid consisted of 32 federal search warrants and resulted in 18 arrests.

Several of the warrants targeted local Tucson businesses that were suspected in either the sale or manufacture of spice.

Those businesses include Smoke 4 Less and Chihuahua Market on South 12th Avenue, Smoke Shop and Prince Markets on East and West Prince Road, Smoke Shop on East Prince Road and Tobacco & More on East 30th Street.

According to Tucson Fire Department Capt. Barrett Baker, the monthly average of spice overdose calls ranges from 30 in slower months to 65 in more recent months. Since May 1, the TFD has reported 192 calls for spice overdoses.

Tucson city councilmembers Steve Kozachik and Regina Romero intend to propose to the council a ban on the sale of the substance in addition to current state laws. However, this would not change the legality of spice in South Tucson and areas of unincorporated Pima County.

The American Association of Poison Control Centers has documented an increase in exposures to spice from 2,668 in 2013 to 7,794 in 2015. So far in 2016, the AAPCC has recorded 1,682 exposures.

As a recreational marijuana initiative heads to the ballot in November—pending its current legal challenge—we'd do well to consider the negative consequences of marijuana prohibition and weigh them against the effects of legalization in Colorado, Washington and Oregon.

While we've seen positive economic effects in Colorado and societal effects are still inconclusive, we can at least agree that the elimination of yet one more black market is beneficial no matter on which side of the issue you stand.

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