EXCLUSIVE: Operators of convenience stores, head shops and boardwalk novelty stores who sell “Spice,” “Black Mamba,” “Kush” and other forms of synthetic pot have a 10-day grace period in which they can surrender the products or face criminal charges if caught selling them.
CLIFFVIEW PILOT has learned that police throughout New Jersey this morning began issuing warnings about synthetic marijuana, which state Attorney General Jeffrey S. Chiesa said during a news conference in Trenton is now being considered the criminal equivalent of heroin or cocaine because of the health dangers.
“These drugs are toxic, dangerous, and deadly,” said Thomas R. Calcagni, the director of the state Division of Consumer Affairs. “Published reports indicate users have committed suicide or suffered fatal injuries after suffering extreme panic attacks caused by synthetic marijuana use.”
The New Jersey Poison Education and Information Center received 146 calls reporting exposure to synth pot in 2011, “an alarming 711 percent increase from 2010,” Calcagni said. Ninety percent of the cases were severe enough to require treatment in a healthcare facility, he said.
On the market nearly eight years now, mock pot has become the third-most commonly abused drug by high school seniors after marijuana and prescription drugs, according to the 2011 Monitoring the Future Study, funded by 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.
Side effects have included violent seizures, dangerously elevated heart rates, heart attacks, anxiety attacks, and hallucinations, according to the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration and the National Institute on Drug Abuse.
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.”
Many of the same types of merchants who sold “bath salts” designer drugs before the state Division of Consumer Affairs banned them in April 2011 have turned to synth pot, New Jersey law enforcement authorities told CLIFFVIEW PILOT on Tuesday.
As a result, police throughout the state today are visiting several of these businesses and giving owners and employees materials developed by the state (see flier below) notifying them that synthetic marijuana is now classified as a Schedule I Controlled Dangerous Substance in New Jersey, under an order signed by Chiesa on Tuesday, CLIFFVIEW PILOT has learned.
That means fines and possibly prison terms for violators.
Retailers and individuals have until 11:59 pm Friday, March 9, to “voluntarily surrender any packets suspected to contain these illegal toxic chemicals to their nearest state or local police station,” said Chiesa, the state attorney general. Those who do so within this time period will not face criminal charges for the drugs they surrender.”
“Today, we are ending this dangerous game played by drug dealers,” the attorney general emphasized. “We are making it unambiguously clear that if a synthetic chemical is being sold because it mimics the effects of marijuana, the dealer is committing a crime.”
Australia got the ban ball rolling in 2008. Since then, several states in the U.S. have outlawed various varieties of synth pot.
Yesterday, the Nevada Pharmacy Board added six more kinds of synthetic marijuana to a list of banned substances after law enforcement officials reported chemists were finding ways to skirt the law.
New Jersey adopted a temporary federal ban on five variants of synthetic marijuana 11 months ago. Pending state legislation would ban three variants of the drug, and pending federal legislation would ban additional synthetic marijuana substances.
“The products are often labeled as ‘incense’ or ‘potpourri’ in order to hide their true nature from law enforcement,” Calcagni, who heads the DCA, explained. “The packages often bear labels claiming the contents are not covered by any existing federal or state ban, creating the impression that they can be sold legally.”
New Jersey’s new ban “is much more comprehensive than previous efforts to eliminate synthetic marijuana,” Calcagni added. “It includes both broad and specific language that encompasses all possible variants of the drug, and any synthetic chemical that mimics the effects on the brain of marijuana’s active ingredient.”
In case you’re wondering: Some synth pot looks like fuzzy, fluffy crumbled marijuana mixed with common herbs and sometimes smells like black licorice.
Imitators have been creating fake gangia from lettuce, catnip, and damiana since the 90s, with common pot names such as hydro and Thai stick. But none contains any chemical that could even remotely get anyone as stoned – with such harmful effects – as synth pot does.
We’re talking light-headedness, “warm-headedness,” relaxation — even the munchies.
The order, signed Tuesday and announced today, bans 10 classes of synthetic compounds that imitate the effects of marijuana, and all known or unknown variants of the drug that would fall within each class.
It also expressly includes “any other synthetic chemical compound” that mimics pot’s effect on the brain.