Will new CA law banning synthetic cannabinoids make a difference?

Gov. Jerry Brown signed a bill into law banning all versions of the synthetic cannabinoid Spice.
Gov. Jerry Brown signed a bill into law banning all versions of the synthetic cannabinoid Spice.
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Gov. Jerry Brown this week signed into law a bill that seeks to close a legal loophole regarding the drug Spice by banning all versions of the synthetic cannabinoid.  

The drug, which mimics the effects of marijuana, has been a growing concern in Los Angeles. In August, dozens of people on Skid Row were hospitalized allegedly by Spice.

The new law, which goes into effect at the beginning of next year, closes a gap in a 2011 state law that bans some formulations of the toxic drug. Manufacturers had circumvented that law by altering the recipe.

Authored by Sen. Ed Hernandez (D-West Covina), the new measure bans all versions of Spice, regardless of the exact formula.  This gives police the power they need to battle the drug, says Hernandez.

"They now have the ability if they know or see a department store or a liquor store or somebody is selling it, then they can go in and take it off the shelves or close it down," he says.

KPCC emailed the L.A. County Sheriff's Department and LAPD Capt. Don Graham, patrol commander of the Central Division, which covers Skid Row, seeking comment on how the new law might affect the fight against Spice. So far neither has responded.

Gary Tsai, who oversees substance abuse prevention for the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health, says the law is a good start.

"This can certainly be helpful," he says, but he cautions that "it doesn’t erase the concern of Spice as well as drugs that are being advertised as Spice but really containing other chemicals."

Those other chemicals, which are often sprayed on plant matter like oregano, can include antifreeze, Febreeze and insect repellent, Tsai says.

"What’s being sold on the street is sometimes Spice and other times it’s being framed as Spice even though it’s really a cigarette with antifreeze on it," he says.

The city of Los Angeles has also been moving to ban Spice. In August, the city council called for an emergency ordinance to prohibit the sale, distribution and manufacture of such drugs.

The city attorney referred the draft ordinance to the council’s public safety committee this week for review. If the full council approves it, the ban would go into effect within days.