On Tuesday, Gov. Jan Brewer signed into law a bill that bans synthetic marijuana in Arizona.
Brewer signed House Bill 2167 in public on Feb. 22, which amended sections of the Arizona Constitution that designates Schedule 1 controlled substances to include 10 chemicals found in synthetic marijuana. The ban took effect immediately.
The signing comes after the Drug Enforcement Agency temporarily controlled five chemicals in November 2010 after more than 2,000 inquiries from the public about the drug. Those five were included in HB 2167.
Spice was still being sold across Arizona even after that because distributors were able to offer different strands of synthetic cannabis. The passing of HB 2167 changed that.
"We pulled everything off the shelf," High Maintenance Smoke Shop owner Jason Horn said. "When the DEA banned it, there were companies that didn't want to go out of business so they found other blends that produced a similar effect, which were still legal."
Spice has been surrounded by controversy because it was sold as incense and marked "Not for human consumption." The chemical compounds that are now illegal were sprayed on incense and burned by the user to create marijuana-like effects.
"Unfortunately, designer drugs are always going to be a problem," Rep. Amanda Reeve (R-Anthem) said. "But this was a good start against a dangerous drug."
Reeve co-sponsored the bill with Rep. Matt Heinz (D-Tucson), who she said has seen numerous people affected by Spice come into the emergency room where he works.
She also described an incident of a 19-year-old Peoria resident who had a heart attack and died while under the effects of Spice.
"His grandmother e-mailed me and told me about it," she said. "The story just really hit me hard. It makes me glad that we were able to get this stuff banned."
Simple possession of the chemicals in a "usable amount," according to A.R.S. 13-3407, is a Class 4 felony and could carry about 2.5 years in prison, attorney Dwane Cates said. Possession for sale is a Class 2 felony and could spell up to 12.5 years in prison. Cates said that simple possession is "probation eligible" so first-time offenders probably would not see prison time.