Drug shakes town

By Christina Calloway

PNT senior writer

ccalloway@pntonline.com

Christian Garcia said it will take more than pep rallies to rid his school of synthetic marijuana, its street name known as spice, because it’s popular among students right now.

Christina Calloway: Portales News-Tribune Portales High School students attended an assembly last week, which focused on the dangers of synthetic marijuana after four students were hospitalized after using the drug the week prior. Peaches Dowdy, left, said that the drug is a major problem within her school. Also pictured are Morgan Collins, center, and Brittany Gonzales.

Christina Calloway: Portales News-Tribune
Portales High School students attended an assembly last week, which focused on the dangers of synthetic marijuana after four students were hospitalized after using the drug the week prior. Peaches Dowdy, left, said that the drug is a major problem within her school. Also pictured are Morgan Collins, center, and Brittany Gonzales.

“They have these pep rallies but the ones who are doing it aren’t going to stop because of a pep rally,” said Garcia, a Portales High School senior.

Garcia said recent incidents involving the hospitalization of four PHS students after they consumed the drug brings better awareness to the issue because they can put a face to the problem.

“What happened the other day is what it takes. For (students) to see how bad it was. I think it takes that shock trauma to make them realize it’s dangerous,” Garcia said.

While PHS held an assembly about the incidents and the dangers of the drug last week, one city councilor wants to fight the presence of synthetic marijuana in the community from another end.

“The bottom line is the stuff is so dangerous, we don’t know how bad it is for our kids,” said Ward D Councilor Keith Thomas.

Thomas is behind a city ordinance that will be announced today at the Portales City Council meeting as a notice of intent, the procedure the city must go through before passing an ordinance, to make it harder to sell synthetic marijuana within Portales.

According to police officials, synthetic cannibinoids are often made with chemicals that mimic THC, the main ingredient of marijuana, but because the chemical makeup of the drug is complex, it’s hard to make it illegal to sell because all producers would have to do is change one ingredient to make it legal again.

It’s also difficult to make illegal because it is often sold as herbal potpourri in a bag that says it is not supposed to be used for human consumption.

But Thomas feels just because the package says people shouldn’t consume it, doesn’t mean people will refrain from doing so, and it certainly won’t stop those who sell it if the product is not illegal.

Thomas wants to create an ordinance that he said will “morph” or change every time the ingredients in the drugs do so that the substance will remain illegal in the city. He said because it would be a city ordinance, the crime of selling it would be considered a petty misdemeanor but he’s added language to the ordinance that would cause business owners to lose their licensee if they are caught selling it three times.

“Being a parent of many children, based on what kids are telling me, we have a problem,” Thomas said, adding that he’s only known minors to consume the drug. “I’m afraid for our kids, I’m afraid for our parents.”

Thomas said he’s proposing the ordinance to protect the community’s youths but he feels it also takes education and the substitution of healthy activities to prevent students from using the drug.

“As a community, we need to reinforce that drugs are going to hurt you,” Thomas said.

He added that the ordinance was something he’s been working on with other councilors for several months but the recent incidents at PHS have prompted him to move quickly on the issue.

Janet Dowdy said she would support the ordinance Monday as she picked up her granddaughter from the high school. She said she was shocked when she heard about the hospitalization of the four students.

“I was shocked because I thought this was a small community and you would think things like that don’t happen here,” Dowdy said.

Her granddaughter, Peaches Dowdy, said she nor her friends have tried the drug but the incident shook up the school community.

“A lot of people have been acting crazy and it’s been a mess,” Dowdy said.

Interim Chief of Police Pat Gallegos said the drug can be purchased from local smoke shops and online, though only one of the three smoke shops in Portales sells it.

“What’s bad with all that is the chemical makeup is so complex, you don’t know what you’re body will react to,” Gallegos said. “Some may even have violent episodes.”

Gallegos said spice has had a presence in the community for a few years but it’s only now becoming a larger issue because it’s reached the high school level.

“There’s actually two different incidents we responded to at the high school this year,” Gallegos said. “I think it’s a drug of the times. We need to find solutions and I think that’s what the ordinance is for.”

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