Unspun: Cathy Vitale — ‘If this stuff is so dangerous, then why is it legal?’

March 1, 2013

Name: Cathy Vitale

Occupation: Delegate — District 33 (Anne Arundel County)

Party: Republican

Age: 49

Hometown: Severna Park

You’re the General Assembly’s most vocal advocate for banning synthetic marijuana. How did you become interested in this issue?

Several years ago, my son and his friends came to talk to me about an issue at their school where two of their friends had gotten involved with this stuff called “spice,” and one was in the hospital and he wanted to know ... if this stuff is so dangerous, why is it legal? It sent us off on an investigation. The boys had bought it from the gas station near the high school they attended.  

Were you surprised that it was legal?

Forty-one states have outlawed synthetic marijuana. By keeping it on the books,  [Maryland] keeps this [holds up large folder labeled “SYNTHETIC DRUGS”] on the streets. You know, it’s funny, I had a student group in here, and I thought the teacher was going to have a heart attack. Her student’s texting her, “She's got drugs!!”

If I waft them at you, you’ll smell blueberries ... but you don’t know what’s in them. They don’t tell you that the base is often acetone, the stuff that’s in nail polish remover, that you use to clean the bottom of boats. And it’s sold in attractive envelopes for kids. It’s not illegal because it’s sold as “incense” or “potpourri” ... but it often gets sold with free rolling papers. They don’t tell you about the convulsions, the heart failure, the kidney failure, the deaths ... mostly from kids in the 13-19 range.

While you’re trying to make “spice” illegal, some of your colleagues are trying to legalize marijuana. How do you feel about that?

I’m angry. I know some people have come up and said, the right hand’s making the illegal legal while the left hand’s making the legal illegal, and what are we gonna do? Well! It’s frustrating. I guess we all come down here with different ideals. Not in my wildest imagination did I think this would be a struggle to pass. We just got an e-mail circulated to us about the dangers of energy drinks. At least energy drinks, you have to label what’s in them.

I hear you like poetry.

I like anonymous poetry — I think people are freer when they don’t put their names to things. The last book I read, honestly, was “Quick Books for Dummies.” But I very much love reading Lincoln’s speeches. Before that, the last book I read was “God and Country” by George Bush. I am an avid Republican.

What’s your district like?

Wonderfully high maintenance. I am blessed with constituents that come to me not just with problems but with potential solutions and a willingness to help. I come from a very old-fashioned Catholic family. My father used to tell us, we all have gifts, and we all have a purpose. Your job is to figure out the gift and how to give back with it.

Tell me about your family.

I am one of four, I’m the oldest girl. I have two younger sisters and a brother that looks like Hagrid that lives in a hut.  When my son was little, I took him to see Harry Potter, and he kept going, “It’s Uncle Sal! It’s Uncle Sal!” It’s nice now because my siblings have all sort of come together to live around here. I get to campaign with my sister.

What have you learned from your campaigns?

Not everybody likes you. I remember knocking on someone’s door in 2006, and they said, “I know who you are, and I don’t like you,“ and they slammed the door in my face. Campaigns keep you humble.

I was also hit by a car during a campaign. So I’ve had surgeries from my knees down to my toes. I still had a primary and a general to do, and I didn’t quit. I was back up fundraising two weeks later, campaigning in a knee brace and a leg brace. That was August. I started my first session as a delegate in January, in a wheelchair. I think that things happen for a reason though. I have a much better appreciation for people with disabilities. I am much more aware now; I don’t make as many assumptions. People would stand over me at meet-and-greets and talk over me to the person behind me and actually eat over my head. Also, I learned that this building wasn’t as handicapped-accessible as you might have thought it was....

 Your bill to ban synthetic drugs did not make it through the House. What’s next? Will you try again?

There will be a Senate bill that might come into the house. I just think — we got 60 votes last time, we need 72. I just gotta find 12 more friends.

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