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Changing ingredients in synthetic 'Spice' make its use tough to police

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SALT LAKE CITY β€” More people are dying of overdoses related to the synthetic drug Spice, but its evolving list of ingredients makes it difficult for police to address the problem, a Utah law enforcement leader said Monday.

"It’s a big challenge for us," said Scott Stephenson, director of Utah's Peace Officer Standards and Training program. "Laws lag behind as they change these compounds."

Officers often seize the drug as evidence and send it to a crime lab, but if the substance is determined to be two components off from how it's defined in Utah's code, the case can't proceed, no charges are filed and the suspect is released, he said. The drug's makeup is known to include dozens of potential chemicals.

"They are just being recycled back into the population without much thought for treatment," he said of offenders.

Stephenson made the comments at a meeting of a legislative work group at the Utah Capitol. Members of the Criminal Code Evaluation Task Force β€” which include lawmakers, criminal justice leaders and others β€” gathered to discuss possible new laws.

Possession of the drug meant to mimic the high of marijuana remains a misdemeanor offense, which does little to deter use, Stephenson said.

Rep. Paul Ray, the Clearfield Republican who sponsored the 2010 Utah law banning the drug, noted that 2015 legislative reforms reduced penalties for drug cases, with a goal of helping offenders get treatment. He said he welcomed officers' ideas.

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