Legislature(2011 - 2012)CAPITOL 120
02/04/2011 01:00 PM JUDICIARY
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|Overview(s): Department of Corrections|
* first hearing in first committee of referral
= bill was previously heard/scheduled
= bill was previously heard/scheduled
HB 7 - SYNTHETIC CANNABINOIDS AS SCHEDULE IIA 1:51:58 PM VICE CHAIR THOMPSON announced that the final order of business would be HOUSE BILL NO. 7, "An Act classifying certain synthetic cannabinoids as schedule IIA controlled substances; and providing for an effective date." 1:52:22 PM REPRESENTATIVE CATHY MUNOZ, Alaska State Legislature, speaking as one of HB 7's joint prime sponsors, explained that the bill would classify certain synthetic cannabinoids as schedule IIA controlled substances, which include materials, compounds, and mixtures that contain hallucinogenic substances. The issue of synthetic cannabinoids was first brought to her attention, she relayed, by a constituent whose son experienced severe adverse reactions when he first experimented with a substance containing synthetic cannabinoids. Within moments of inhaling the substance, commonly referred to as "K2" or "Spice," he began vomiting, lost his sense of reality and his ability to walk or talk, and had violent outbursts. She then read from a letter he'd since written, which in part read [original punctuation provided]: ... I lost control of my legs that I couldn't walk at all. I couldn't talk. I could hear what I thought and what I wanted to say, but all I was spitting out was gibberish. This went on for what felt like many hours. I can remember thinking to myself that I wasn't actually going come out of this craziness and this might be how I end up dying! I remember telling my brother to call 911 and remember going into the ambulance and ending up in the hospital .... REPRESENTATIVE MUNOZ relayed that she's since heard similar stories from around Alaska and other parts of the country, and offered her understanding that to date, nine other states have successfully enacted laws banning synthetic cannabinoids - which have only just recently been marketed in the U.S - and that many countries in Europe have already taken steps to ban them, including Germany, Sweden, Russia, and England. Synthetic cannabinoids are primarily made in China and Europe; are commonly marketed as incense after being mixed with [a leafy substance]; are readily available over the Internet and in local stores; and can produce reactions similar to those of [tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), the active ingredient in marijuana], but can also produce severely adverse reactions such as hallucinations, nausea, vomiting, agitation, and panic attacks. In conclusion, she indicated that there were folks available to speak in support of HB 7. 1:55:44 PM KENDRA KLOSTER, Staff, Representative Cathy Munoz, Alaska State Legislature, speaking on behalf of Representative Munoz, one of the bill's joint prime sponsors, explained that HB 7 would add 10 specific compounds to AS 11.71.150(b) - the list of schedule IIA controlled substances; these are the compounds that the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) and other states have thus far come across. In response to comments and questions about a different synthetic compound being labeled as "bath salts" but being used as a drug, she indicated that further research would be warranted before including such a compound in HB 7. REPRESENTATIVE HOLMES asked what the rationale was for proposing to add synthetic cannabinoids to the list of schedule IIA controlled substances rather than to one of the other schedules. MS. KLOSTER explained that both the DEA - [which has temporarily banned] five of the compounds listed in HB 7 - and the majority of the other states that have enacted legislation to ban synthetic cannabinoids have included them in their schedule I controlled substances lists, which are similar to Alaska's schedule IIA controlled substances list; Alaska's list of schedule IIA controlled substances and those other states' lists of schedule I controlled substances include other hallucinogenic drugs. REPRESENTATIVE HOLMES offered her understanding that while some consider synthetic cannabinoids to be like other hallucinogens, others consider them to be more like marijuana, and therefore she is questioning which schedule would be the most appropriate to list them under. MS. KLOSTER acknowledged that other types of synthetic marijuana, as well as THC itself - again, the active ingredient in marijuana - are listed as schedule IIIA controlled substances, and mentioned that she has spoken with the drafter about instead adding the synthetic cannabinoids named in the bill to the list of schedule IIIA controlled substances, if that's what the committee would prefer. REPRESENTATIVE GRUENBERG observed that according to information from the National Conference of State Legislatures included in members' packets, some states provide the same penalties for crimes involving synthetic cannabinoids as for crimes involving marijuana. In contrast, HB 7 would provide for stronger penalties. 2:04:13 PM MS. KLOSTER pointed out that Alaska simply schedules its drugs differently. For example, in Alaska, marijuana itself is not considered to be very dangerous and so is listed as a schedule VIA controlled substance, whereas research indicates that the synthetic cannabinoids listed in HB 7 behave more like hallucinogens - schedule IIA controlled substances - and are thus more harmful to people; no one has died from using marijuana, but some have died from using synthetic cannabinoids. She again indicated that listing such compounds as schedule IIIA controlled substances, instead, would be an option, if that's the committee's preference; again, other types of synthetic marijuana are already listed as schedule IIIA controlled substances. In response to a question, she offered her understanding that possession of a schedule IIA controlled substance would be a class C felony, whereas possession of a schedule IIIA controlled substance would be a class A misdemeanor; she agreed to research whether any other states have made possessing synthetic cannabinoids a felony. 2:06:47 PM ROBERT URATA, M.D., Valley Medical Care, in response to a question, relayed that he'd attended a person who'd used a synthetic cannabinoid; he elaborated: The gentleman presented in quite a bit of distress. ... He was disoriented, hallucinating, and his blood pressure was extremely high - 180 over 105. His pulse rate was 139 when he arrived, and [he] looked very much like he was having some sort of toxic reaction to something, and we couldn't ... get a history from him, but his friends were there to give us the history of ingestion with this new drug ... [that was] surprisingly easily-available to him - I think it was purchased at a [local] store or something like that. So I thought that that was quite a dangerous thing. We actually admitted him overnight, gave him [intravenous (IV)] fluids, [but] we didn't have to give him any medications. We were advised by poison control ... that this should just settle down after close observation - which we did, we put him in the intensive care unit - and the next day he was able to go home. And he was alert, oriented, [but] did not recall all of the things except that he had a very scary experience and he was never going to do it again. DR. URATA, in conclusion, opined that the committee should pass HB 7. In response to questions, he offered his understanding that synthetic cannabinoids have not been approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), and that the person had only smoked a pipe full of the synthetic cannabinoid through some sort of pipe; and said that the person did not appear to be suffering from an allergic reaction to the synthetic cannabinoid, and that the effects on the person were similar to those of cocaine or a "bad trip" on lysergic acid diethylamide (LSD). 2:11:38 PM ORIN DYM, Forensic Laboratory Supervisor, Scientific Crime Detection Laboratory ("Crime Lab"), Office of the Commissioner, Department of Public Safety (DPS), in response to questions, explained that the Crime Lab would be responsible for performing all of the analyses pertaining to the compounds listed in HB 7; that he's provided the DOL with language regarding these compounds; that this language is meant to encompass possible future variations in the chemical composition of these types of synthetic cannabinoids; that the [DEA has temporarily banned some] synthetic cannabinoids; that the synthetic compound being labeled as "bath salts" but being used as a drug is more closely related, structurally, to an amphetamine; that analyses pertaining to the compounds listed in the bill would be conducted using the Crime Lab's standard methodology, though a specific method has not yet been validated in Alaska; that it could be a challenge to prove to a court that a particular compound is one of the synthetic cannabinoids listed in the bill to the exclusion of all other compounds; and that the DPS's fiscal note reflects the addition of a new position to address the anticipated increase in the Crime Lab's workload, as well as the startup and ongoing costs associated with that new position, which would be capable of analyzing up to 40 requests per month. 2:24:06 PM ANNE CARPENETI, Assistant Attorney General, Legal Services Section, Criminal Division, Department of Law (DOL), explained that usually the way a particular drug is scheduled in Alaska is that the federal government schedules that drug first under its schedules, and then, as required by Alaska statute, the governor introduces legislation to add that drug to Alaska's schedules, and then there are further statutory guidelines that must be followed with regard to which schedule that drug should be listed under. In the case of synthetic cannabinoids, however, the federal government hasn't scheduled them yet [having only temporarily banned them while it conducts more research regarding their potential dangers]. So at this point, she relayed, the DOL doesn't know enough about the dangers of synthetic cannabinoids to adequately address the issue of proper scheduling, and would therefore prefer that the bill include legislative findings of fact regarding the extent of the abuse and the dangers posed; such findings would also be helpful to the DOL for prosecution purposes as well as for defending the legislation should it be challenged. She indicated that the DOL would be happy to work with the [joint prime sponsors] in drafting those legislative findings. MS. CARPENETI concurred that Mr. Dym has provided the DOL with language containing a more generic description of the synthetic cannabinoids listed in the bill such that possible future variations in the chemical composition of these compounds would still be covered, thereby precluding the need for future statutory revisions. In conclusion, she reiterated the DOL's preference that HB 7 include legislative findings of fact. In response to questions, she observed that should HB 7 become law, prosecutions would fall to the state alone because the federal government has yet to schedule these types of synthetic cannabinoids; that she would research what possible effect any future prosecutions by the federal government might have on the aforementioned anticipated increase in the Crime Lab's workload; and, referring to the legislative findings of fact included in legislation passed in 2006 regarding marijuana, reiterated that it would be helpful - for purposes of prosecution, defending against a challenge, and proper scheduling - for HB 7 to include legislative findings of fact regarding the extent of the abuse and the dangers posed by these synthetic cannabinoids compared to other drugs, including marijuana. REPRESENTATIVE GRUENBERG requested that the language provided to the DOL by Mr. Dym be distributed to the drafter. REPRESENTATIVE PRUITT asked whether law enforcement has come across any instances wherein someone under the influence of [one of the synthetic cannabinoids listed in the bill] committed a crime but couldn't be prosecuted to the full extent of the law because those compounds had not yet been made illegal. 2:37:48 PM RANDAHL HAHN, Captain, Commander, Alaska Bureau of Investigations (ABI), Division of Alaska State Troopers, Department of Public Safety (DPS), indicated that [the DPS] has come across such instances wherein the person was only charged with the "core" crime but not with possession/consumption of a synthetic cannabinoid. He added, though, that because the compounds listed in the bill are not yet illegal, [the DPS] has only anecdotal information and is unable to provide the committee with the type of statistical data that it would normally provide with regard to controlled substances. REPRESENTATIVE GRUENBERG expressed interest in hearing about the experiences of law enforcement in other states, and about whether there were any other substances that the administration thinks should be added to HB 7. REPRESENTATIVE HOLMES asked Captain Hahn how the synthetic cannabinoids listed in the bill manifest in those who use them, and how dangerous he feels these compounds to be. CAPTAIN HAHN indicated that law enforcement officers have found that the reactions and behaviors of individuals using a variation of one of the compounds listed in the bill more closely resemble the reactions and behaviors of someone under the influence of LSD or cocaine, rather than those of someone under the influence of marijuana; generally speaking, these individuals indicated they were having hallucinations, they were much more aggressive and violent, and they had more significant blackout periods. 2:41:16 PM ELIZABETH RIPLEY, Executive Director, Mat-Su Health Foundation; Chair, Mat-Su Substance Abuse Prevention Coalition, indicated that [her organizations] are concerned about the synthetic cannabinoids listed in the bill - such compounds can be harmful and even deadly, even when used for the first time - and that [her organizations] support passage of HB 7, and advocate the use of public policy to curtail the availability and use of these drugs. She also provided comments regarding alcohol and marijuana abuse. In response to a question, she agreed to provide the committee with information regarding how many businesses in Palmer and Wasilla sell synthetic cannabinoids such as those listed in the bill. 2:46:53 PM J. KATE BURKHART, Executive Director, Advisory Board on Alcoholism and Drug Abuse (ABADA), Department of Health and Social Services (DHSS), after stating that she would only be speaking on behalf of the ABADA and not on behalf of the DHSS, indicated that the ABADA supports the regulation of the synthetic cannabinoids listed in the bill given the significant health consequences these compounds pose to people who use them. Although the DEA has temporarily banned possession of [five of the compounds listed in HB 7] so as to investigate the issue of proper scheduling, the ABADA's position, she relayed, is that the state cannot rely upon the federal government to [schedule those compounds at all, or to schedule them] as quickly as would be desirable. [House Bill 7 represents] an opportunity for Alaska to protect its citizens from a significant health hazard, and to take the lead, over the federal government, on this issue, particularly given how popular these compounds have become even though they've only recently entered the marketplace, and given that those who use them are presenting with serious health consequences that could lead to death. She also provided comments regarding other hallucinogenic substances that perhaps should be regulated as well, such as Salvia Divinorum [and Salvinorin A (Divinorin A)]. 2:54:57 PM DENNIS A. WHEELER, Municipal Attorney, Department of Law, Municipality of Anchorage (MOA), relayed that after studying the issue of synthetic cannabinoids through the use of a state grant, the MOA passed an ordinance banning them back in December 2010. Although such compounds have only been temporarily banned by the DEA, he offered his understanding that it's considering listing them as schedule I controlled substances, and therefore the MOA supports bills such as HB 7 [in its current form], particularly given that the potency range of these types of synthetic cannabinoids is anywhere from 10-800 greater than marijuana. In fact, at least one person in Anchorage has died [as a result of using such a compound] - he went into a coma and never recovered - and there have been some significant motor vehicle accidents resulting from people driving while under the influence of these types of synthetic cannabinoids, including one person who smashed into some concrete barricades and then described some very strange [hallucinations] to the responding officer. He relayed that a couple of MOA personnel have been making presentations to Department of Corrections (DOC) staff, military officials, and others about these compounds and their dangers, and indicated that someone from the MOA would probably be available to present this information to the committee during the bill's next hearing. In response to comments and a request, he agreed to also provide the information in writing. VICE CHAIR THOMPSON announced that public testimony would remain open, and that HB 7 would be held over.