Mayor intros new measure to combat wave of Anchorage spice emergencies

Anchorage Mayor Ethan Berkowitz is proposing a new measure the administration sees as necessary for combating a wave of emergencies connected with Spice.

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A draft of the ordinance slated for introduction before the Assembly on October 27th.
A draft of the ordinance slated for introduction before the Assembly on October 27th.

One of the problems trying to enforce existing rules is that “spice” refers to a wide umbrella of drugs containing a number of different synthetic substances.

“Street names for illicit synthetic drugs,” said Municipal Attorney Bill Falsey, “include atomic, aura, black diamond, black mamba, bliss, blizzard, blue silk, Bombay blue, bonsai grow.” Falsey stopped before getting to the “c” section of the long alphabetical list.

The ordinance builds on a similar measure the Anchorage Assembly passed in 2014 that used $500 fines connected to packaging to crack down on spice sales, primarily at small shops and gas stations. The biggest difference with the new ordinance is that using or selling spice would be considered a crime, instead of a civil offense.

“Sale or distribution would be a Class A misdemeanor, punishable by one year in jail or a $10,000 fine, the use and possession would be a Class B misdemeanor, punishable by six months in jail with up to a $2,000 fine,” Falsey said.

The mayor’s administration wrote in a Tuesday morning press release that between July 18th and October 4th of this year there were 468 incidents of individuals being transported by the Fire Department for Spice-related emergencies. That accounts for 11 percent of AFD’s total transports, or roughly six individuals every day.

The change to a criminal rather than civil offense would allow officers to get search warrants from the court, which Falsey said are essential for building the kinds of larger cases that halt the flow of drugs that eventually reach the street level.

“This will allow them to go to a judge and say ‘we have probable cause to now believe that a crime has been committed’ so they can make their investigations into the larger sale and distribution network,” Falsey explained.

In 2014, the original Assembly ordinance received push-back from legal advocacy groups over the broad parameters that could be used to designate a substance as spice, saying it gave too much latitude to law enforcement. Joshua Decker of the American Civil Liberties Union in Alaska says the group is reviewing the ordinance, but does not have a position on it at this time.

Falsey does not expect any substantial amendments for the measure before its introduction to the Assembly at their October 27th meeting. The ordinance comes up for action in November.

Zachariah Hughes reports on city & state politics, arts & culture, drugs, and military affairs in Anchorage and South Central Alaska.

@ZachHughesAK About Zachariah

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