FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: February 13, 2012
SCHUMER: STORES ACROSS ROCHESTER AREA ARE OPENLY PEDDLING MARIJUANA-LIKE, DANGEROUS KNOCK-OFF DRUG – PUSHES LEGISLATION TO KEEP DRUG-LIKE PRODUCTS OUT OF KIDS’ HANDS AND GET THEM OFF THE SHELVES
Today, U.S. Senator Charles E. Schumer called for the immediate passage of legislation that would ban the sale of synthetic marijuana and other drug-like products that are currently on Rochester-area convenience store shelves. Following recent reports that ‘K2,’ ‘Spice,’ and other synthetic marijuana products were being openly peddled as potpourri and incense in Rochester-area convenience stores, Schumer is pushing the Senate to pass the David Mitchell Rozga Act, which would make synthetic marijuana illegal. These drugs have lead to seizures, hallucinations, high blood pressure, rapid heart rate, and panic attacks, as well as dangerous and erratic behavior. Producers of these products have attempted to evade Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) bans by slightly altering the chemical compound of their products and repackaging them. The legislation Schumer is pushing contains specific provisions that would prevent drug makers from tweaking their products to avoid federal bans, ensuring that they are kept from reentering Rochester-area convenience stores.
“These drugs are wreaking havoc on our youth and have no place in our schools or on our streets, and certainly not on convenience store shelves,” said Schumer. “We need to pass this bill now to get this poison out of Rochester’s stores and make it absolutely clear that these drugs won’t be tolerated. Time and time again we’ve seen drug makers tweak the compound just enough to try to slip through federal loopholes – enough is enough. We need a clear, tough law that gets these drugs off the shelves, and ensures that no amount of clever chemistry can bring them back.”
Schumer was be joined by the Director of Toxicology at the University of Rochester Medical Center and Associate Clinical Professor of Medicine & Emergency Medicine Dr. Timothy Wiegand, Rochester City Police Chief James Sheppard, and members of local law enforcement. Schumer’s push for the legislation follows recent media reports that documented the spread of synthetic marijuana in Rochester stores. The drugs have become extremely popular among youth, and those who want to experience marijuana-like highs without the possibility of failing a drug test, as synthetic marijuana use does not register during traditional drug testing. The product is sold as potpourri or incense and not marketed for human consumption, but provides a drug-like high when smoked.
The Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) and poison control centers report a rapid increase in the use of products, laced with chemical compounds and marketed as legitimate products, by teens and young adults to obtain “legal highs”. According to media reports, Strong Hospital in Rochester treats at least one person a day for the side effects that occur from smoking these drugs. These products are available at numerous Rochester convenience stores and are commonly known as “K2” or “Spice”, among other names. According to emergency room doctors, the chemical compounds found in these products can produce intense highs which may lead to seizures, hallucinations, high blood pressure, rapid heart rate, and panic attacks. These products are also known to cause erratic behavior and may lead to the injury or death of the user. Poison control centers reported only 13 calls concerning these products in 2009, over 1,000 in 2010, and over 6,500 in 2011. The latest Monitoring the Future Survey indicates that one in nine high school seniors used synthetic drugs in the past year.
The DEA has already administratively banned five chemical compounds found in synthetic marijuana. However, this ban is only temporary and there is no guarantee that the chemicals will be permanently banned in the timeframe allowed. The David Mitchell Rozga Act will take the chemicals the DEA has identified within synthetic marijuana products and places them as Schedule I narcotics with other deadly drugs like meth and cocaine. While all five branches of the military prohibit their personnel from possessing or using synthetic cannabinoids associated with products such as Spice and K2, and 18 states and other countries have controlled one or more of the five synthetic cannabinoids, no such laws now exist in New York State. Schumer’s bill would effectively ban synthetic marijuana, and make it illegal to sell even if it is advertised as incense that is not for human consumption. The legislation has already passed the House, and the Senate Judiciary Committee has passed several bills to combat synthetic drugs, that form the basis of the House-passed legislation. Given the growing synthetic drug problem in the Rochester area and throughout the country, Schumer is pushing for swift passage of the bill, so that the President can sign it into law.
The bill would also double the timeframe the Drug Enforcement Administration and the Department of Health and Human Services have to emergency schedule substances from 18 months to 36 months. This will allow for dangerous substances to be quickly removed from the market while being studied for permanent scheduling. Under current law, federal regulators only have 18 months to study a substance to determine whether it should be permanently banned, before the temporary ban is lifted and the product is returned to the market. Doubling that time limit will give scientists more time to fully understand the chemicals they are evaluating, and ensure that dangerous chemicals, like those found in synthetic marijuana, are not allowed to slip back into the market.
The legislation also closes a loophole that has made the spread of synthetic marijuana almost impossible to stop. As various versions of synthetic marijuana have gained in popularity over the last several years, the DEA has attempted to ban certain chemical compounds, only to have the manufacturers tweak the chemical compound to create a product that would not be covered under the DEA ban. The legislation Schumer supports would cast a wide net over existing synthetic marijuana products and other possible chemical combinations that could produce similar products, ensuring that simple chemistry could not result in new products that fall outside of existing federal bans.
“Powdered cocaine wouldn’t be legal just because you stamped ‘powered sugar’ on the bag,” continued Schumer. “Synthetic marijuana shouldn’t be legal just because it masquerades as potpourri. We need to pass this bill now and get these dangerous drugs out of convenience stores before they do even more harm.”