Politicians are cracking down on the underground sale of synthetic marijuana to prevent the widely used drug from crippling the city the way the crack epidemic did in the 1980s and 90s.
Synthetic marijuana, known on “the street” as “K2”, “Scooby Snax” and “Spice”, much of which is made in China, is becoming a serious problem in American cities, and New York City is no exception. Health officials and law enforcement warn people of the dangers of the product, which can be bought in many corner stores.
Synthetic marijuana is a herbal mixture that also contains a toxic cocktail of chemicals that have deleterious effects on the body. These effects include hallucinations, nausea, agitation, seizures and even suicidal or violent reactions. The drug also causes excited delirium syndrome, or a state of extreme mental and physiological excitement.
The American Association of Poison Control Centers reports that as of July, 4,377 people suffered from the effects of synthetic marijuana, compared with 3,682 in all of 2014. More than 100 overdose cases a month have come into Bellevue Hospital.
Use of the drug is popular among the homeless, according to law enforcement. Users sometimes smoke it openly on the street.
In 2012, Gov. Andrew Cuomo issued new regulations under the Department of Health sanitary code to ban the possession, manufacture, distribution and sale of synthetic cannabinoids. Just this past week, the DOH promulgated new regulations to expand the types of synthetics covered under the 2012 order.
Wednesday, state Sen. and Independent Democratic Conference Leader Jeff Klein of the Bronx and Bronx Assemblyman Mark Gjonaj demanded a crackdown on the sale of synthetic marijuana. There have been nearly 700 emergency room visits at three Bronx hospitals in recent months because of overdoses.
Klein will introduce new legislation to combat the sale of synthetic marijuana and criminalize K2. The proposed legislation adds “synthetic cannabinoids” to the pre-existing crimes of selling marijuana under New York’s penal law. Accordingly, the legislation provides five degrees of criminal sale—ranging from class “B” misdemeanor to a class “C” felony—depending on the weight of synthetic cannabinoid sold.
“The Bronx is becoming the K2 capital of New York City,” Klein said. “Synthetic marijuana is dangerous and poses a very real public health threat to New Yorkers, their families and children. At least 10 patients a week are rushed through the emergency room at Jacobi Hospital displaying frightening, erratic behavior associated with K2 use. I’m introducing legislation to keep ahead of the chemists’ curve and criminalize all analogous chemicals put into these colorful K2 packets.”