Atascadero has become the first city to add the recreational substances known as spice and bath salts to a list of bans.
The City Council approved the ban at its Aug. 12 meeting with a quick 5-0 vote following a presentation from the Atascadero Police Department’s Commander Joe Allen, who outlined why he considered synthetic marijuana (known as “spice”) and bath salts to be dangerous to public safety. States and the federal government have attempted to ban both spice and bath salts, but the substances have eluded a complete prohibition because makers can alter a chemical compound and circumvent the ban. The substances can be found at many convenience stores, smoke shops, and similar establishments.
When spice is ingested, it often mimics the effects of marijuana—though not always. Allen listed times when police responded to disturbances and found people under the influence of spice behaving much more erratically than someone who had ingested marijuana.
“These people are becoming more intoxicated, [demonstrating] more bizarre behavior, than I have ever seen with marijuana,” Allen said. “These people are getting high on these products, and they’re disturbing our commerce and our community. They act completely outlandish.”
Allen detailed two particular incidents to illustrate his point. One happened just the day before—Aug. 11: According to Allen, police responded to a call and found a man who had ingested spice; Allen described the man as “catatonic,” incredibly “out of it,” and unable to “formulate two sentences together.”
“I myself, with 22 years of law enforcement, have never seen anybody under the influence of marijuana in that catatonic state,” Allen said.
In a separate incident, Allen said a 16-year-old who was under the influence of spice ran up the middle of El Camino Real, jumped onto the hood of a moving vehicle, held on by the windshield wipers, and then vomited. Allen also reported responding to an incident at Twin Cities Community Hospital in Templeton where officers had to restrain a man who was under the influence of spice and had been demonstrating violent behavior, including breaking loose from restraints.
The council also banned the possession and sale of bath salts, which are synthetic substances that, when ingested, can mimic the effects of cocaine and methamphetamine. Bath salts have been the subject of media attention in recent years due to a number of horrific and bizarre incidents that involved people under their influence. Atascadero has had limited experience with bath salts, Allen said.
In 2012, a former Lompoc prison guard shot and killed a fellow guard from Victorville after the two had been drinking all day and ingesting bath salts in a hotel room.
-- Melody DeMeritt - former city council member, Morro Bay