syndrug377May 18, 2017 -- Joined by a bi-partisan group of Westchester lawmakers and fourth grade students from the Bruno M. Ponterio Ridge Street School in Rye Brook, County Executive Robert P. Astorino on Thursday signed a law that bans the sale and possession of synthetics drugs.

The law identifies some of the most common hallucinogenic substances found in products, commonly known as K2, fake weed and synthetic marijuana, and imposes civil penalties of $500 for the first offense and $2,000 for a second offense.

Synthetic drugs are particularly dangerous because they are often marketed over the counter to teenagers and people living in poorer communities as tobacco, herbs, incense, spice and potpourri, yet contain hallucinogenic chemicals, substances and agents that are made in laboratories to mimic the active ingredients of marijuana, cocaine, heroin and other drugs. In recent years, K2 has been packaged as a number of brand names such as Spice, Red Giant, Smacked, iBlown, Trippy and Green Giant Scooby Snax.

“Synthetic drugs are cheap, potent, available and even marketed as a safe alternative to drugs,” said Astorino. “We know these chemically concocted drugs pose a serious threat to our communities and that we must face this challenge head-on.”

Law enforcement and health professionals report that users can be irrational, violent or suicidal – and sometimes found in a “zombielike” state. While K2 is already illegal in New York State, manufacturers try to circumvent the law by changing the mix of chemicals in these products.

The Board of Legislators unanimously passed the bill on May 8, 2017 after it received feedback from members of law enforcement, including Westchester County Public Safety Commissioner George Longworth and representatives of both the Yonkers and Mount Vernon Police Departments. 

The law is being implemented by amending the “Consumer Protection Code” to restrict the sale and possession of synthetic drugs. It has support from public safety, health professionals and bi-partisan support from lawmakers.

syndrug9301The legislation was co-sponsored by Legislators David Tubiolo, R-Yonkers, John Testa, R-Peekskill, and Virginia Perez, D-Yonkers.

“Synthetic drugs are a uniquely dangerous and fast spreading phenomenon,” said Testa. “I spent my professional career as a public high school teacher and I can see that the danger and accessibility of these synthetic drugs poses a threat to our youth that we must address now. This law not only provides stiffer penalties including fines and possible jail time, it expands the definition of synthetic drugs which makes it harder for the producers and dealers to circumvent the law.”

Tubiolo added: “Synthetic marijuana is a serious and dangerous problem from both a public health and law enforcement perspective. Because of the inconsistent nature of the chemical compounds used, it is impossible to predict how the drug will affect the user and how severe those affects might be.  This is especially dangerous for our kids who are the prime target of synthetic drug suppliers.  The drug is generally marketed in brightly colored packages featuring familiar cartoon characters.  There could not be a more innocent looking product that hides potentially deadly effects.”

Perez, chair of the Board’s Legislation committee, noted that reports of its use are on the rise, and this law is aimed at giving law enforcement the proper tools to combat the epidemic.

“In committee hearings, we learned from County and local police that their officers have frequent interactions with individuals under the influence of synthetic marijuana who were ‘zombie-like,’ irrational, violent or suicidal.  They also reported that these incidents are on the rise.  Because of its inexpensive cost, the negative impacts are seen disproportionately among young teems and in low-income areas. This Legislation gives law enforcement agencies a very important tool in dealing with synthetic drugs."

Signing of this law follows the announcement of the County Executive’s initiative to combat the growing opioid epidemic in the county. Called Project W.O.R.T.H.Y., Westchester Opioid Response Teams Helping Youth,  the program builds response teams made up of law enforcement, health and mental health experts, parents, teachers, coaches, clergy and youth who work together to find practical and preventative solutions to opioid abuse in Westchester County.

“We must fight this growing epidemic on a number of fronts,” Astorino said. “The work ahead is tough because the enemy is strong and constantly adapting.”

Fourth grade students from Bruno M. Ponterio Ridge Street School in Rye Brook were on hand for the announcement as part of a day where they learned about the legislative process and how a bill becomes a law.