Pubdate: Wed, 21 Oct 2015
Source: Alaska Dispatch News (AK)
Copyright: 2015 Alaska Dispatch Publishing
Note: Anchorage Daily News until July '14
Author: Laurel Andrews


Spice-related medical emergencies spiked again Monday in Anchorage, 
with the fire department saying it might have made the most 
transports in one day since Spice emergencies increased this summer.

On Tuesday morning, Anchorage Mayor Ethan Berkowitz announced that 
his administration would be introducing an ordinance that would make 
the sale and use of Spice a crime and impose penalties far steeper 
than what is currently on the books.

Erich Scheunemann, assistant chief of emergency medical service 
operations, said records show around 30 people were taken to 
hospitals Monday for suspected use of Spice, "tentatively ... the 
most pickups since mid-July," he wrote.

Since the number of suspected Spice cases exploded in mid-July, 
emergency calls have fluctuated. Calls peaked in early August, then 
again on Aug. 20 before settling down for much of September. But as 
the last weekend in September approached, the numbers shot back up 
again, according to data from Scheunemann.

Suspected Spice use made up 10 percent of all transports from 
mid-July to Sept. 27, and the numbers have remained high through October.

An unofficial tally of fire department medical transports from Oct. 1 
to 19 shows that roughly 18 percent involved suspected Spice use, 
according to Scheunemann.

On Tuesday, Berkowitz said in a media release that his proposed 
ordinance would strengthen the municipality's ability to crack down 
on use of the drug.

Anchorage police have had little power to stall the sale or use of 
Spice. Possessing and selling it is not a crime -- the $500 fine is a 
civil violation, akin to a traffic ticket, and no criminal charges 
can be filed unless police can prove criminal intent.

The ordinance, to be introduced at the Anchorage Assembly meeting on 
Oct. 27, would make using and selling Spice a misdemeanor. Maximum 
penalties for distribution of Spice would increase to a year in jail 
and a $10,000 fine. Maximum penalties for Spice use would increase to 
six months in jail and a $2,000 fine.

Municipal prosecutor Seneca Theno said Tuesday that the ordinance 
retains the $500 civil violation currently on the books, while adding 
criminal elements for use and sale.

When asked whether the ordinance could potentially lead to an 
increase of Anchorage homeless -- who have been disproportionately 
affected by the crisis -- spending time in jail for Spice use, Theno 
said, "I hope not."

That's not the intent of the ordinance, she said, but rather to have 
more tools at the city's disposal to stem the problem.

If the ordinance is approved, police won't necessarily arrest those 
who are found with the drug, Theno said -- an officer can issue a 
citation for a person to appear in court at a later date. 
Hypothetically, depending on the circumstances and a person's 
criminal record, someone who is initially charged with a misdemeanor 
may see that reduced to a civil fine later, Theno said.

Theno had said earlier this month that the city was exploring an 
increase in penalties for Spice sales and use, and noted the 
municipality was asking for help from the federal government.

"I think this is a good day for Anchorage," said Lisa Sauder, 
executive director of downtown soup kitchen Bean's Cafe, reacting to 
news of the ordinance

The current law lacks teeth, Sauder said, and she believes steeper 
penalties are part of the solution to deter those selling the drug.

"I think the next part of the equation really needs to be increased 
access to treatment," Sauder said.
- ---
MAP posted-by: Jay Bergstrom