“Seven Mesa High students taken to hospital.”
You might’ve seen that headline recently. It reinforces an ongoing problem in our state, a problem one legislator attempted to address last session, only to be shot down.
That problem is “spice” or “bath salts,” legal substances that kids increasingly are consuming, substances that provide those kids the high they’re looking for, substances that have resulted in hospitalizations, some for long-term psychiatric problems, and even deaths.
So why do bath salts and spice remain legal? Two answers, at least for Arizona.
One is the way the makers of spice keep ahead of the law. What happens is this: A product is put out there, it results in the kinds of problems outlined above, and then the state outlaws the chemical compound that creates that product.
The chemists making the product then alter the compound, and suddenly they have another “legal” substance to sell.
This is the history of bath salts since their inception, the law always behind the chemists’ ability to alter their concoctions to keep them legal.
Hospital emergency rooms increasingly treat kids high on these bath salts, kids who legally purchase them at convenience stores or head shops. Kids are quickly addicted to the substances, which can induce paranoia, panic attacks, sudden mood swings and reckless behavior, not to mention rapid heartbeat over an extended time, chest pains, and, in some cases, heart attacks.
So in the last legislative session, State Sen. Linda Gray introduced a bill that would give the state more power over these drugs.
Currently, here’s how the system works in Arizona: The state identifies a substance, but if the Legislature hasn’t banned that particular combination of chemicals, the state must wait until the Legislature convenes and passes a law specifically outlawing that combination.
Which means? For months at a time, law enforcement cannot go after substances the Legislature hasn’t banned (unless the federal government has first).
In response to that dilemma, Sen. Gray introduced this bill:
“It would give the Arizona State Board of Pharmacy power to add chemicals to its controlled-substances list without legislative approval to ban chemicals used in new bath-salts derivations without waiting for lawmakers to return to session and pass a bill banning the new versions.”
The bill also “required board members to consult with a Department of Public Safety forensic scientist, who typically would identify new drugs for legislators and ensure chemicals met certain criteria before they could be banned.”
Sounds reasonable, right? Give the experts the power to ban in real time the chemicals used in the latest synthetic drug formulas, but with the same oversight by the DPS used by legislators to craft laws to ban specific chemicals. Plus, it allows those drugs to be outlawed at any time; as is, it takes a bill passed by the Legislature to enact bans.
Not good enough for Gilbert state legislator Eddie Farnsworth, and enough House Republicans, however. Because when the bill reached the House floor, it got deep-sixed.
Farnsworth, who helped lead the charge against the bill, believed it gave too much power to the State Board of Pharmacy, believing it violated separation of power.
Said Farnsworth, “What we have to be very careful of is that we don’t decide that somehow the ends of trying to prevent people from committing crimes is going to justify the means of destroying the protections we have in the Constitution.”
I’m not sure just what “protections” are threatened by Gray’s bill, but I do know this:
The bills Farnsworth voted for — the ones that have banned specific chemical compounds — came from . . . wait for it, wait for it . . . the Arizona State Board of Pharmacy.
Maybe Gray will once again introduce her perfectly reasonable bill in January. And probably Farnsworth will once again be successful in shooting it down. But certainly more kids will be damaged by their use of bath salts, apparently a fair exchange for saving Farnsworth’s Constitutional “protections.”