It's a drug that has shattered lives, and it is sold legally across Virginia. "Spice" is a kind of fake marijuana that causes hallucinations, foaming at the mouth, and even death.
A Hopewell man wants the drug out of his city, but he says Virginia law is stopping police from doing anything.
"Spice is 10 to 26 times more powerful than marijuana alone," said John Rogers, a substance abuse counselor who ensures Dominion Virginia Power employees are drug free. "I'm tired of it ravaging families. Something has to be done."
Virginia outlawed spice two years ago, but the law bans only specific chemical compounds used to make the drug. Taking advantage of the loophole, dealers have made spice with new compounds, achieving the same potentially lethal high.
"I asked Hopewell to make an ordinance banning spice altogether," Rogers said in an interview Tuesday. "The city of Sweetwater, Florida has done it, by banning the sale of ‘loose leaf or granular incense.' I know we can do the same."
Spice is often sold as incense, labeled "not for human consumption." The drug is made of dried, shredded plant material sprayed with chemical additives – additives that create mind-altering effects.
But according to Hopewell City Attorney David C. Fratarcangelo, although the city has a will to ban spice, it may not have a way. The city cannot pass an ordinance that reaches farther than Virginia law.
Hopewell Chief of Police John F. Keohane said in an interview Tuesday it is frustrating to confiscate spice made with new chemicals - chemicals that at this point, are legal.
"We've made two recent purchases and we're waiting for the results to come back from the state lab," Keohane said. "Then we can tell if the chemical mixture is banned under Virginia's code, and if we can charge somebody."
Rogers said he is not giving up his fight, after seeing people suffer from hallucinations and debilitating physical effects. He said he will continue to work with Hopewell's city council, and hopes to expand the effort across the region.
"Why do we have to wait for state law? Let's take a stand now and do something about this drug that's devastating communities."
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