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Ban on ‘Spice’ and Other Synthetic Drugs Under Consideration in Santa Maria

More than week after Santa Maria junior high school students showed up on campus under the influence of a legal synthetic drug, the City Council is set to consider banning such substances.

The council will consider the first reading of an ordinance to ban “spice” and other intoxicating synthetic drugs during a meeting that is to begin at 6:30 p.m. Tuesday in Council Chambers at City Hall, 110 E. Cook St.

“There is reason to believe that adopting the proposed ordinance will significantly reduce the problems associated with the use of synthetic drugs,” Assistant City Attorney Phil Sinco wrote in a staff report.

The council’s consideration comes 11 days after five junior high school students smoked “spice,” and four arrived at El Camino Junior High School, where an administrator noticed one youth showing signs of being under the influence of a drug. Three of those students went to Marian Regional Medical Center for assessment.

Santa Maria police have dealt with several other instances of people being under the influence of synthetic drugs, including “spice,” which refers to a wide variety of herbal mixtures that produce a high similar to marijuana, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse.

But spice is sold under many names, including K2 and fake weed. It’s often labeled “not for human consumption” and includes dried, shredded plant material and chemical additives to create the mind-altering effects.

On April 27, police responded to a residence where an 18-year-old wielded a knife while threatening “suicide by cop.” During the 90-minute stand-off, crisis negotiators were called in and the suspect was finally subdued after officers fired a beanbag projectile. The teen later admitted he had use synthetic drugs, according to the city staff report.

In another instance, on April 9, a police officer made a traffic stop after noticing a driver smoking from a metallic pipe. According to city officials, the driver said he was smoking “spice” and was asking God for help and became erratic.

After the driver collapsed, he was taken to Marian Regional Medical Center, where a police officer observed him writhing, crying, shaking and muttering unintelligibly.

Representatives of Fighting Back Santa Maria Valley and other organizations have been working with city officials since January to seek the ban in Santa Maria.

“We’ve been working on this for months,” said Edwin Weaver, executive director of Fighting Back Santa Maria Valley.

He said parents of the junior high students intend to speak in favor of the ban during the council meeting.

Those working with substance abuse patients have complained that while the City of Lompoc banned the synthetic drugs, they are still easily available for sale in the Santa Maria Valley.

A similar ban is being pursued at the Santa Barbara County level, Weaver said.

“We really want to make sure we cover our bases,” he added.

Sinco said state and federal synthetic drug laws are not comprehensive enough to eliminate distribution of the substances. In the staff report, he recommended that the council adopt the ordinance banning the possession, sale and distribution of the substances.

If approved, Santa Maria would follow several other cities in banning the drug, including Guadalupe, Lompoc, Atascadero, Morro Bay and Paso Robles.

Earlier this year, Sinco said, police in Atascadero and Paso Robles conducted compliance checks and noted the substances were no longer available for purchase from stores that previously sold the items.

“Based on the experience of these two cities, it is likely that the City of Santa Maria will also see a reduction in the problems caused by synthetic drug use if the proposed ordinance is adopted,” Sinco wrote.

Also Tuesday night, the City Council will hear a presentation about placing video surveillance cameras around the city to help deter crime and aid investigations.

Other agenda items include adopting measures to comply with state-mandated water-saving steps and a General Plan land-use and zoning amendment related to the Austin Gardens senior housing project proposed for Oakley Court.

Noozhawk North County editor Janene Scully can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address). Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.

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