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Senate votes to criminalize synthetic pot

May 1, 2012
By CHRIS MORRIS - Staff Writer ( , Adirondack Daily Enterprise

The state Senate has passed a bill that would criminalize the sale and possession of synthetic marijuana.

Sen. Betty Little, R-Queensbury, sponsored the legislation, which would make selling or possessing fake pot brands like K-2 or Kush a punishable criminal offense. The bill would also criminalize the sale and possession of hallucinogenic chemicals known as "bath salts."

Little said in a prepared statement that synthetic pot and bath salts are just as dangerous as illegal drugs like cocaine or heroin.

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"I've heard from parents, educators, substance abuse counselors and all of my district attorneys urging the state Legislature to make the sale and possession of these drugs illegal," she said. "But the most compelling pleas have come from teenagers who have used or seen someone use these drugs.

"The effects are so alarming that they've asked me to do something," Little added. "That says a lot about just how deceptively dangerous these drugs are and why it is important we act today and that the Assembly joins us in this effort."

Fake pot is sprayed with chemicals known as synthetic cannabinoids that, when ingested, can result in side effects like increased heart rate, tremors and seizures.

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Bath salts are chemically similar to substances like methamphetamines and Ecstasy. They can cause psychological and physical harm, and in some cases have led to death, according to police.

State police Lt. Brent Davison told the Enterprise earlier this year that he's heard of several instances in which users of bath salts have checked into the emergency room with "severe problems."

Bath salts and synthetic marijuana have also been tied to criminal activity in New York state. Lawmakers said a Glens Falls man, Richard Velazquez, was sentenced to 10 years in prison last week for attacking a woman and her infant child. Velazquez admitted in court that the synthetic marijuana product he used "contributed to his actions," according to a press release from Little's office.

State police believe a pair of Tupper Lake residents who went missing in March, along with a Jeep Grand Cherokee and a handgun, may have been using synthetic meth when the incident occurred. Carl R. Burns Jr., 41, and Angela I. Roberts, 23, were acting paranoid and irrational when they were taken into custody. Davison said at the time one of the side effects of bath salts is "extreme paranoia."

Gov. Andrew Cuomo and the state Department of Health took action earlier this year to ban the sale of synthetic marijuana, but users can still purchase the product online or by going across state lines.

Little said criminalizing the substances would address those issues.

The bill passed Monday would establish penalties for possession and sale of synthetic marijuana and bath salts. The penalties would be similar to those that currently exist for marijuana and methamphetamines. Selling synthetic marijuana or bath salts on school grounds would be a class B felony and could net up to 25 years in prison.

The legislation would set up a surrender program to let anyone in possession of the substances turn them in to a law enforcement agency without penalty. That surrender period would be effective for 90 days following enactment of the law.

The bill would also create a statewide database including brand names and descriptions of synthetic drugs to make them easy for retailers to identify.



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