A proposal about the classification of synthetic cannabinoids, a.k.a. synthetic marijuana, or "K2," sparked a debate at this week's Community Board 3 Meeting in Lower Manhattan. The Committee for Transportation and Public Safety has proposed a resolution urging New York lawmakers to pass legislation classifying K2 as a controlled substance.
"Existing regulations classify possession of 'K2' as a violation, with no distinction between possession and distribution," the resolution, written by CB3's David Crane, said. "In other words, 'K2' is legally just a violation similar to the public consumption of alcohol."
Crane argues that it isn't currently possible for local law enforcement and district attorneys to uncover and shut down dealers, or those who import and distribute K2 because "it is not possible to obtain a search warrant or to engage in plea bargaining with defendants." Classifying K2 as a controlled substance would increase the ability of police to search for distributors.
The resolution doesn't support a pre-existing bill in Albany, just encourages lawmakers to create one in the future, rendering it largely theoretical. And yet some members of the board were alarmed by the proposal, fearing it would embolden NYPD officers to stop and frisk more neighborhood youths.
Board member Vaylateena Jones said that she has teenage African American sons and nephews and didn't want to give any reason for additional police confrontation. Another board member said she didn't want to criminalize a drug that "she knew nothing about."
There was enough dissent for the resolution to be pulled from the schedule and pushed to a later date.
Synthetic marijuana was banned in 2012 and the State Senate passed a bill making it illegal in 2013. But K2 and similar substances continue to be used in New York, so much so that the Department of Health released a press release in July warning New Yorkers not to use it after 15 people went to the emergency room with adverse side effects in three days. The DOH said that in the first six months of 2014, emergency room visits had gone up 220% related to synthetic marijuana.
The danger of K2 and similar drugs is that their chemical make-up is different every time. Crane said at the meeting that if one substance is banned, dealers use a different one. This means reactions are unpredictable, sometimes lethal and have "no antidote," according to the DOH. The Daily News went so far as to call it a "deadly plague." We tried it, and lived to tell the tale.
CB3's proposal against K2 is based on similar legislation passed by NY State that classified synthetic cathinones or "bath salts" as a controlled substance. "That legislation closed a significant loophole and toughened penalties to curb the sale and distribution," the proposal said.
CB3 District Manager Susan Stetzer doesn't think young people would be the primary target. She said that representatives from homeless shelters within the community came to the CB3's offices asking for help with this issue, and are the reason they drafted the proposal.
"They've seen their residents been victimized," she said. "This is a two dollar high. This is really aimed at low income people, not generally young people. Middle aged or older men."
It may be true that the homeless and those living in shelters are K2's target demographic, but most reports of hospital trips have been by young people. Whether they would be affected more with the proposed legislation depends on an intent to sell.
The proposal states that "Only possession with the intent to distribute should result in misdemeanor or felony charges that would result in serious penalties," and that any further violation of just possession would do "nothing to improve individual or public health or safety."
"It is absolutely to help the people being victimized," Stetzer said. She said that there is agreement within the board that whatever legislation they're promoting should not penalize the users but empower police to go after dealers and distributors.
"The issue is can you trust that this would happen?" she asked.
The resolution will next be discussed at January's Transportation and Public Safety committee meeting.