OPINION: City calling a truce in the war against pot, beginning a war against fake pot
It is at least ironic that while the offices of the District Attorneys in Brooklyn and Queens and the courts are looking for ways to decriminalize the use and sale of marijuana, the same offices are searching for ways to deal with the synthetic replacement of marijuana which has proved to be far more dangerous.
The problem is that the replacement, known as K2 or spice is more powerful, cheaper and can be produced in a makeshift lab. A foil package of K2 costs from $5 to $10 and is far more powerful than natural marijuana.
When marijuana is legalized, it will still be an expensive drug.
The potential health hazards of K2 are far more serious than smoking marijuana. Although K2 is often described as “artificial marijuana,” it can be difficult to define what K2 actually is.
K2 is created in the laboratory to mimic the psychoactive ingredient in marijuana. K2 or synthetic cannabinoids is a class of drugs that affects the same area of the brain as marijuana. It is made up of chemicals made in laboratories and sprayed onto dry leaves. These chemicals are not derived from the marijuana plant.
Unlike marijuana, cocaine or heroin, K2 is not made from a natural substance that can easily be identified by drug tests and banned. For this reasons, experts say users may prefer K2 because it doesn’t show up in a blood test if a person is applying for a job or public housing or meeting with a probation or parole officer.
Packets of K2 or “spice” are now turning up in batches manufactured everywhere from labs in China to backrooms in New York City. The brown leafy substance is thrown together with common chemicals, often toxic ones.
The problem, according to Dr. Robert Chin, chief of emergency medicine at Woodhull Hospital, is that the doctors and nurses working in the emergency rooms often don’t know what chemical an overdosing patient has ingested. “[The victims] don’t know what they are really getting and we don’t know either,” he said. “We are trying to conduct a research study that will find out what is in the batch that is making them behave like this.”
Although Bushwick has been the epicenter of the K2 epidemic in New York City, the drug is abused in every borough including Queens and throughout the tristate area. In August, more than 100 victims collapsed from overdoses in an outbreak in New Haven, Connecticut, in the shadow of Yale University. A disturbing video of this tragic scene, on local news showed a young man wildly kicking and punching EMS workers as they struggled to strap him to a gurney so they could put him in an ambulance and get tin to a hospital.
Making the problem worse, the K2, sold in colorful foil packets, is relatively cheap — only $5-$10 per packet.
The City Health Department lists some of the adverse health effects of using K2 including:
Rapid heart rate
Reduced blood supply to the heart
The department challenges the popular myth that that K2 is “natural” and “safe.” It is neither. In one state authorities found K2 laced with rat poison.
Although it can be a legal challenge to define, in New York, selling K2 is a misdemeanor, punishable by up to a year in jail, fines of more than $100,000, additional prosecution by federal law, closure and eviction and of a cigarette retail dealer license.
Considering the health risks of using this drug, the legal risks of selling or producing it need to be far greater.
The city is not sitting on its hands. The Mayor’s Office of Criminal Justice, is leading a multi-agency effort targeting K2 that includes the New York Police Department, the Department of Consumer Affairs, the Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, the Health and Hospitals Corporation, the Law Department. But the city should not be surprised if some people think it is chasing its tail.
The Kings and Queens District Attorneys, the courts and the police are facing the problem of cracking down on a drug that is hard to legally define while legalizing the drug it is designed to mimic.