SPECIAL REPORT: Packages of illegal synthetic marijuana with names such as “Scooby Snacks,” “OMG,” WTF” and “Mad Hatter” were being openly sold by a Garfield business owner being held on $150,000 bail in the Bergen County Jail after being arrested by Garfield police as part of an ongoing statewide crackdown.
Undercover officers found more than four dozen bags of the product being sold at Milan Kothari’s Tobacco Road store on River Drive, Garfield Police Chief Kevin Amos said.
Kothari is charged under statutes put in place by state authorities last year, and approved by the Legislature last month, that make synthetic marijuana as illegal in New Jersey as cocaine and heroin. He also had a bottle of unidentified pills without a prescription, police said.
New Jersey is one of only a small number of states to outlaw the manufacture, distribution, sale, and possession of hundreds of possible variants of the dangerous, manmade drug — commonly known as “K2,” Spice,” “Kush”and “Jersey Shore,” among others.
Like bath salts, outlawed by New Jersey last year, synthetic marijuana has side effects that include seizures, hallucinations, panic attacks, and suicide.
On the market nearly nine years now, mock pot has become the third-most commonly abused drug by high school seniors, after marijuana and prescription drugs, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse.
Sold under names such as “K2” or “K3,” “Down to Earth” and “Comatose Candy” — and selling for $30-$40 per bag — the mostly 500-milligram foil packets contain mixes of herbs and plant materials coated with chemicals that simulate the same high produced by pot’s psychoactive ingredient, THC (tetrahydrocannabinol).
The chemicals, in some cases four to five times more powerful than THC, were first developed for research – and labeled as not intended for human consumption — in the mid 90s.
It’s a “more potent substance than natural marijuana by its actions on the brain,” said Dr. Ashwin Reddy, a psychiatrist at the Boston University School of Medicine. “It can cause an increased risk of paranoia, hearing voices, disorganized behavior and panic symptoms.
“Depending on the person, psychotic symptoms can last a few days to a few months.”
Some synth pot looks like fuzzy, fluffy crumbled marijuana mixed with common herbs. It sometimes smells like black licorice.
“These synthetic poisons, once offered as a so-called ‘legal high’ by shady retailers, are now permanently off the market in New Jersey – and the numbers indicate our ongoing ban has led to a decline in their reported use,” state Attorney General Jeffrey S. Chiesa said.