SAN ANTONIO – A big move to get synthetic marijuana off San Antonio streets has led to more than 100 arrests in two months. A pilot program started by the Bexar County District Attorney's Office and the San Antonio Police Department has cleared up what District Attorney Nico LaHood called "unclear legislation."
The new rule allows officers more leeway when trying to deal with synthetic marijuana.
Spice. K2. Potpourri — they're all names of synthetic marijuana San Antonio bike patrol officers know well.
"Ninety-seven percent of the drugs they deal with downtown with transient and homeless people is synthetic marijuana," LaHood said.
LaHood said people don't realize synthetic marijuana is nothing like marijuana with THC.
"It's absolute evil," he said. "A couple of drags can really do damage to the brain, and they're seeing it, dealing with it downtown, people, how they're behaving. They're seeing people totally incapacitated because of this drug."
Synthetic marijuana contains an ever-changing array of chemicals that are difficult for police to quickly field-test when they find it on someone.
Before, officers would find what they thought was synthetic marijuana, confiscate it without arresting the person and send the substance off for testing. They would file a case and if it came back positive, a warrant would be issued. LaHood said the problem was that they could rarely find those people again.
Local officers said they weren't clear when they could make arrests for synthetic marijuana, and felt the problem was becoming rampant, so they brought the issue to the DA's office.
"Our first response was, 'Wait a minute, you don't field-test alcohol. You do a tally of the circumstances, analysis on someone, if you believe they are intoxicated at the time they are operating a motor vehicle,'" LaHood said.
LaHood said he applied the same logic to synthetic marijuana.
"You know the substance has an odor. You know how it makes people behave overall through a totality of the circumstances that would rise in our legal assessment to probable cause to make an arrest," he said.
Officers are now allowed to arrest someone for having what they believe is synthetic marijuana. Then within 30 to 60 days, the substance is tested.
Since September, LaHood said police have arrested 126 people and have seized more than 3.3 kilograms of synthetic marijuana.
Only 57 of those cases have had tests come back so far, but 56 of them tested positive for synthetic marijuana. That means 98 percent of the time, the officer was right.
"If those are the statistics we're going to continue to see, I think it becomes a new normal, in my opinion," LaHood said.
If someone has been arrested and the test comes back negative, the case will be immediately dismissed and all charges dropped.