Bronx elected officials, community leaders and health officials are looking to finally ‘snub out’ synthetic marijuana sales.
At a Wednesday, August 12 press conference at Jacobi Hospital’s Trauma Center, Senator Jeff Klein, Assemblyman Mark Gjonaj, Director of Behavioral Health Services at North Bronx Healthcare Network Dr. Maryann Popiel, Director of the Comprehensive Psychiatric Emergency Program at Jacobi Hospital Dr. Benjamin Raatjes, community leaders and health officials demanded a crackdown on synthetic marijuana sales.
Working with community leaders and health officials, Klein’s office has identified 24 Bronx stores allegedly selling vibrant, cleverly named packets of synthetic marijuana and staff at the senator’s office had purchased K2 at EZ-Pass Gourmet Deli and Hairth Deli Grocery Corp in the past week.
“Synthetic marijuana is dangerous and poses a very real public health threat to New Yorkers, their families and children as at least ten patients a week are rushed through the emergency room at Jacobi Hospital displaying frightening, erratic behavior associated with K2 use,” said Senator Klein.
To combat “spice” sales resulting in nearly 700 emergency room visits at three Bronx hospitals in recent months, the senator has introduced new legislation to fortify criminal and civil penalties to keep ahead of the synthetic drug trade.
According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, “spice” refers to a wide range of herbal mixtures producing similar effects as marijuana and are marketed as a ‘safe,’ legal alternative under such names as ‘K2’, ‘fake weed’, ‘Yucatan Fire’, ‘Skunk’ and ‘Moon Rocks’.
These products are labeled “not for human consumption” as they contain dried, shredded plant material and chemical additives resulting in their mind-altering effects.
Synthetic marijuana is known to cause ‘Excited Delirium Syndrome,’ a state of extreme mental and physiological excitement associated with violent behavior, seizures, high blood pressure and elevated body temperature among many other symptoms.
“The biggest misconception about synthetic marijuana is that it’s anything like actual cannabis,” said Dr. Raatjes. “These are dangerous chemicals sprayed onto plant matter that can be overwhelming to those using these drugs.”
The K2 epidemic is prolific due to how easy chemists are able to continually tweak their formulas to subvert existing laws and regulations.
In an undercover purchase made by member of Klein’s staff, a Bronx bodega owner retrieved ‘Smacked!’ along with other K2 brands hidden beneath the counter when requested by the customer and only charged $5 for each five gram bag.
“These drugs are easily accessible and are being marketed to children right in our backyard,” said Assemblyman Gjonaj. “We must prevent the sale of these dangerous and life -threatening products.”
Senator Klein will introduce new legislation adding ‘synthetic cannabinoids’ to the pre-existing crimes of selling marijuana under New York State’s penal law.
His legislation provides five degrees of criminal sale, ranging from class B misdemeanor to a class C felony dependent on the weight of synthetic cannabinoid sold.
Klein also introduced legislation banning the sale of synthetic marijuana under general business law and will increase penalties bringing the first violation to $2,000, the second to $5,000 and third violation resulting in the loss of a store owner’s liquor, tobacco and lottery license.
The senator will host a Friday, October 9 summit on synthetic cannabinoids at Jacobi Hospital with legislators, law enforcement and the medical community.