It’s dangerous, easy to find and marketed towards youth — that’s what community leaders and elected officials in eastern and southeastern Queens are saying about synthetic marijuana — and they want it outlawed in New York State.
Some 40 other states already have laws that classify the substance, often known by the brand names K2, Spice or Mr. Smiley, as an illegal drug. It is sold in colorful packaging, sometimes festooned with cartoon characters, and branded as incense or potpourri. It’s also clearly marked “not for human consumption.”
But so far, the warning hasn’t stopped youngsters from smoking it and sustaining numerous side effects such as anxiety and panic attacks, heart palpitations, racing heartbeat, respiratory complications, aggression, mood swings, altered perception and paranoia — even thoughts of suicide that lead to attempts.
Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-NY) has legislation pending to make the drug illegal nationwide. State lawmakers are seeking the same in New York, and City Councilman Ruben Wills (D-Jamaica) will be introducing a nonbinding resolution on March 22 in support of the state and federal bills, as well as introducing his own measure to criminalize fake pot in the city.
In an effort to raise awareness about the dangers of synthetic marijuana, Wills and other area elected officials are visiting bodega owners in their districts and asking them to sign pledge posters that state that they will not sell the product, and prominently display the signs in their windows.
Bashir Ahmed, the manager of Bashir’s Famous Deli on Guy R. Brewer Boulevard in Jamaica, was the first to publicly sign the pledge, at a press conference organized by Wills outside his store on Friday. Other elected officials in attendance were City Councilman James Sanders Jr. (D-Laurelton) and Assemblywoman Vivian Cook (D-Jamaica).
Wills said his office conducted a survey of 58 bodegas in Southeast Queens and 12 had been found selling the fake pot within the last three months.
“We went out this morning and purchased one, and as it’s getting more popular, there has been price gouging,” Wills said, adding that a small container of Mr. Smiley was $8, up from $2 dollars in December.
“Today, we are beginning to do what we have to do, saving our community, saving our children,” said Ramon Murphy, president of the Bodega Association of the United States. “Bodegas are stores that serve the community, bringing healthy food, hope into the community. Our stores should not be selling something that is dangerous for our kids.”
Synthetic weed is a mix of herbs and flowers that is sprayed with research chemicals, according to Herman Lozada, a resident of Rosedale and specialist in the drug addiction field for more than 25 years. He is presently the managing director at Phoenix Career Academy, an adult business and trade school in Brooklyn.
The substance was created in laboratory settings to test neural receptors found in the brain and body and was never meant for human consumption, Lozada said.
“This is not just damaging to our immediate community, but is a nationwide problem,” he said. “And I think the best way to approach this is by getting support and soliciting support from our state legislatures.”
The chemicals used in synthetic marijuana are a minimum of five times as potent as the THC found in the real thing, can be highly addictive and have led to increased emergency room visits nationwide, Lozada said.
The product does not produce a positive toxicology result, meaning it often goes undetected in drug tests, he added. It is sprayed with some 15 chemicals, and only about eight can be detected as compounds in drug tests using existing technology.
“We noticed that it was being sold right across the street from our schools, and we took a proactive approach and formulated a resolution to ban it in our community,” said Kangela Moore, chairwoman of the Youth and Education Committee at Community Board 13, adding, “We need to have this poison out of our community.”