On Thursday, amid a recent uptick in fake-weed hospitalizations in New York State and across the country, the city conducted its second "inspection operation" of the month of delis in East Harlem, confiscating more than 2,000 bags of synthetic marijuana from two delis near the intersection of 125th Street and Lexington Avenue. The first inspection, on July 2nd, turned up 8,000 bags.
The operation was conducted by a multi-agency group organized by Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito, made up of officials from the NYPD, Department of Health, and Department of Consumer Affairs.
Often referred to as K2, "Spice," or "Mr. Big Shot," synthetic marijuana can be sold for as little as $2 a packet. And while it's highly unusual to end up in the ER for smoking the real thing, fake weed is often laced with a cocktail of dangerous chemicals, and has been known to cause seizures and hallucinations. Because the chemicals are always changing, there is no catch-all antidote.
Governor Cuomo officially banned several strains of fake cannabis in 2012, classifying possession as a violation punishable with a fine between $250 and $500, and between 15 and 20 days in jail. Earlier this month, following the announcement that more than 1,900 New Yorkers had been hospitalized between April and June, the Mayor added two new classes of compounds to the banned list.
East Harlem has garnered particular attention from the city since mid-April, when Governor Cuomo and the Department of Health issued a warning about the substance, noting that 160 New Yorkers, the majority of them from that neighborhood, had been hospitalized since the first of that month. Soon after, the DOH delivered Commissioner's Orders to 34 East Harlem delis, ordering them to stop selling synthetic cannabis. These July inspections were the follow-up to that warning.
Two people were arrested at one of the delis on Thursday for Criminal Possession of a Controlled Substance, but only because officials also found 58 bags of Khat, 8 bottles of Viagra, and one bottle of Cialis—another erectile dysfunction medication.
At a Community Board 3 meeting on the Lower East Side in December, board members argued in favor classifying synthetic marijuana as a controlled substance, since doing so would allow the District Attorney's office to issue search warrants to lift synthetic marijuana in bulk.