Pubdate: Wed, 11 Nov 2015
Source: Alaska Dispatch News (AK)
Copyright: 2015 Alaska Dispatch Publishing
Note: Anchorage Daily News until July '14
Author: Laurel Andrews


Possessing and selling the synthetic drug Spice is now a crime in 
Alaska's largest city, as the Anchorage Assembly unanimously passed 
an ordinance Tuesday evening making "illicit synthetic drugs" illegal.

The crowd clapped as the tally appeared on a large screen in the 
Assembly chambers.

The ordinance contains broad language that covers both Spice 
(synthetic cannabinoids) and bath salts (synthetic cathinones). The 
possession and sale of both is now a misdemeanor crime.

"Not everything will be covered by this ordinance," city prosecutor 
Seneca Theno told the Assembly, but "this is as broad as we can do right now."

Still, some of the substances listed in the ordinance have been 
seized by APD, Theno said, and "would be testable and prosecutable."

The maximum penalty for selling Spice is now a year in jail and a 
$10,000 fine. The maximum penalty for Spice use is now six months in 
jail and a $2,000 fine.

Before the vote, citizens spoke both in support and opposition of the 

Billy Ray Powers told Assembly members, "We really don't have a Spice 
problem. What we have is ... an inebriate homeless problem ... the 
Spice is just a byproduct of that."

Issuing fines and putting people in jail "is really not a productive 
thing," Powers said.

Catherine Muntean disagreed. "Spice is a symptom, but it's a symptom 
that needs to be reacted to," Muntean said.

Muntean told Assembly members that she was "really, really grateful 
that there is something coming up to make it a criminal charge," but 
questioned whether criminally charging users was appropriate.

The ordinance was created as a response to a marked increase in 
medical emergency calls surrounding the drug, which started in 
mid-July. In October, the numbers reached their highest point yet, 
with around one-fifth of all Anchorage Fire Department medical 
transports due to suspected use of Spice.

While calls come in from all over the city, 80 percent come from the 
downtown area and Mountain View, according to the Anchorage Fire Department.

Dealers are targeting the city's homeless population, the Anchorage 
Police Department has said; police know who the dealers are, but have 
been unable to do much to stem the problem, because Spice was not a 
crime, but a civil violation, akin to a traffic ticket.

Police say they intend to target dealers, not users, of the drugs. 
City prosecutor Theno said that Anchorage police will decide on a 
case-by-case basis whether to arrest a drug user or issue them a 
citation to appear in court at a later date.

Deferred sentencing, in which charges are dropped if a user fulfills 
certain requirements, could incentivize a user to get treatment, Theno said.

Assemblywoman Amy Demboski said later that Bean's Cafe and Brother 
Francis Shelter need to "step up and take some accountability" for 
the overdoses happening on their property.

"I don't have a lot of empathy for people when we're (treating) the 
same person on one 24-hour shift," Demboski said.

The city's struggle mirrors a larger national problem. On Oct. 15, 
the Drug Enforcement Administration announced the results of a 
15-month investigation into synthetic "designer drugs" that 
culminated in 151 arrests in 16 states.

Meanwhile, the city says it plans to unveil a comprehensive plan 
regarding homeless people in coming weeks, and the state Department 
of Health and Social Services is finishing a preliminary 
investigation looking at the nature, scope and cause of the problem.
- ---
MAP posted-by: Jay Bergstrom