Arizona lawmakers target synthetic marijuana drugs

Arizona lawmakers target synthetic marijuana with tougher penalties for manufacturers, vendors

PHOENIX (AP) -- It's an illegal marijuana knockoff that can result in seizures, psychotic episodes and other dangerous side effects, but some teenagers can't get enough of it.

Despite a statewide and federal ban on synthetic marijuana, some Arizona lawmakers say the state must do more to crack down on the drug commonly known as spice. A Senate committee advanced two bills Monday that would make it harder to use or buy the synthetic compound that activates some of the same receptors in the body stimulated by cannabis.

One bill would prohibit businesses with liquor licenses from selling spice. Another bill would expand the state's definition of dangerous drugs and increase the minimum fine for selling or manufacturing those drugs from $1,000 to $25,000.

"Kids' lives are being ruined, and I am going to do what I can to stop it," said Republican Sen. Don Shooter, of Phoenix, the bills' sponsor.

Under the proposed changes, the state could revoke the liquor license of any business found distributing spice.

Roughly 41 states have banned spice, including Arizona.

Law enforcement officials have said the state ban has had little impact because distributors of synthetic drugs can make minor chemical changes to try to stay ahead of the law.

Expanding the state's definition of dangerous drugs should close that loophole, Shooter said. The proposed definition would state that "a dangerous drug is any material, compound, mixture, preparation or substance that contains any quantity of certain listed substances, including their salts, isomers, and salts of isomers." It also expands the definition to include an analog that "has a substantially similar chemical structure" as a dangerous drug.

Last year, President Barack Obama signed a federal law banning synthetic marijuana and other such drugs. The ban placed 26 substances in the federal list of Schedule 1 controlled dangerous substances.

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Cristina Silva can be reached at https://www.twitter.com/cristymsilva .

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