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Nassau Approves Criminal Penalties For Sale Of Synthetic Marijuana

Violators Subject to Criminal Penalties of $1,000 Fine, Jail

The Nassau County Legislature today approved County Executive Edward P. Mangano’s measure to criminally penalize individuals or companies who sell products containing one or more synthetic cannabinoids, including brand names known as Spice and K2 which are known to mimic the high associated with marijuana. The new law makes sale of these products a criminal offense punishable by a fine of up to $1,000 and/or up to one year’s imprisonment for violators.

“These chemically-laced synthetic marijuana products, sold in stores as potpourri and incense, can have serious health consequences on our children - including seizures, hallucinations, increased heart rate, elevated blood pressure and more,” said County Executive Mangano. “Nassau’s new law has teeth as it is now a criminal offense to sell these products in Nassau County. I am hopeful that others, including New York State or the Federal Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), will follow our lead and add criminal penalties for sale of these products.”

Nassau’s new law defines synthetic cannabinoids as any chemical compound that reacts with cannabinoid receptors and has been permanently or temporarily placed on the federal Schedule of Controlled Substances, Schedule I. It includes any chemical compound that reacts with cannabinoid receptors and has not been approved or regulated for use by the federal Food and Drug Administration (FDA). The intent of including the cannabinoid definitions in the county law is to prevent the manufacturers of these substances from skirting the law by slightly changing the chemical compound of their product sold to avoid regulations aimed at specific brand names or formulae.

The American Association of Poison Control Centers reported 5,853 calls related to synthetic marijuana from January through November 2011. A dramatic increase from 303 calls in 2010. In the past year, 20 deaths have been linked to the use of products sold under these names. Thus far, 40 states have banned synthetic cannabinoids. The New York State Senate passed legislation in April to criminalize the sale and possession of synthetic marijuana. The legislation has been sent to the Assembly for further action.

On March 28, 2012, New York State Governor Andrew Cuomo ordered the State Health Department to ban the sale of synthetic marijuana and similar products sold legally but smoked for marijuana-like effects.