Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Week In Review

State Capitol Week in Review

LITTLE ROCK – The state Board of Health scheduled a special meeting to consider a ban of K-2, a new chemical intoxicant now being sold legally in some retail stores although its effects are similar to those of marijuana.

Several cities and counties in Arkansas have already passed ordinances to prohibit the sale of K-2, as have a handful of other states. Under the state Constitution, the Arkansas legislature does not convene until January of next year. Until then, a prohibition adopted by the state Board of Health would give law enforcement the authority it needs to stop sales of the chemical.

State senators have said they will introduce legislation in the 2011 not only to prohibit the sale of K-2 but also to impose criminal penalties for selling it. Until then possession by individuals will not be illegal but people will not be able to purchase it legally.

K-2 is a chemical compound manufactured in China. The chemical is sprayed on plants, then it is packaged and sold as a marijuana substitute. It acts on the brain much like marijuana does, although it does not show up on blood tests.

The Health Department reported that the potency of K-2 can be much stronger than marijuana and can cause seriously high blood pressure, a rapid heart rate and lung damage. It also can cause paranoia and hallucinations. Long-term effects of the chemical are unknown.

The federal Food and Drug Administration has not approved K-2 for human consumption. It has no known commercial use other than as a substitute for marijuana.

K-2 is known by names such as Mojo, Genie, Blaze, Red X, Dawn, Spice and Zohia.

New Prison Director

The state Board of Correction has named Ray Hobbs as the new director of state prisons. Hobbs has worked in the Arkansas Correction Department for 35 years as an officer, assistant warden, warden, assistant director and chief deputy director.

Hobbs was instrumental in getting Arkansas prison unites accredited by the American Correctional Association. He also has started programs to reduce the frequency of sexual assaults inside prison units.

Hobbs has been serving as interim director since the retirement of former director Larry Norris in January. Hobbs, 58, is the first African-American to head the Arkansas Correction Department.

Hobbs takes the helm at a time when budget constraints are worsening the problems typically faced by prisons. Overcrowding is a concern because of steady growth in the inmate population, which is more than 15,500.

The Board of Correction voted to not give bonuses to employees. It also voted to trim some maintenance costs in order to come up with about $3.7 million next year for operation of a new 360-bed unit in Malvern, which has already been built.

The annual budget for operating state prisons is about $300 million. When the legislature convenes in 2011, expansion of prison space will be an issue.

The governor has called growth of the inmate population "unsustainable" and has authorized an extensive study of current sentencing laws and possible alternatives to incarceration.

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