Now that the NYPD has rebranded K2 as weaponized weed and forever associated it in our minds with a 12-year-old Cops clip of a man running around naked in Des Moines on what was likely PCP, local and state legislators are ramping up their efforts to regulate the synthetic, chemical-laced marijuana alternative.
"It's certainly become a public health concern," said NYPD Chief Carlos Gomez at a press conference last week. "The use of K2 does not always lead to... that condition but it certainly may and it has."
Violent outbursts aside, K2 has led to many hospitalizations across the state in recent months (we tried it once for journalism and lived to tell the tale). New York state officials reported 1,900 K2-related hospitalizations between April and June of this year. Between early June and August 1st, the number jumped to more than 2,300 ER visits, not to mention more than 300 calls to poison control.
Often referred to as "Spice," or "Mr. Big Shot," K2 can cost as little as $2 a packet, and is often sold over the counter at bodegas. Last month, in an effort to curb the supply, the city conducted two "inspection operations" in East Harlem, confiscating more than 10,000 bags of K2 in total. Two arrests were made in the second raid, but only because officials found prescription drugs in the mix—because K2 is not classified as a controlled substance, there is no law on the books against having it in your possession, or selling it.
Cuomo has banned several strains of K2 since 2012, but they currently only violate health code. Therefore, as Politico NY points out, "it is hard for the police to prioritize, and difficult for district attorneys to prosecute."
Two state legislators who represent the Bronx, Senator Jeff Klein and Assemblymember Mark Gjonaj, are reportedly hoping to change this. A piece of legislation they're planning to introduce during the next session would penalize the sale of K2, making it similar to selling marijuana in the eyes of the NYPD. From Politico NY:
There would be five degrees of criminal sale ranging from a class B misdemeanor to a class C felony, depending on the quantity of synthetic cannabinoid sold.
Klein told reporters yesterday that under current law, those caught selling K2 can expect a $500 fine. Under his legislation, those same dealers would face a $2,000 fine for the first violation, and a $5,000 for the second. A spokeswoman for Klein's office emphasized that cracking down on bodegas—which Klein says tend to sell to minors and the homeless—is his first priority.
Klein is particularly concerned about the prevalence of the drug in his district, where he says he's identified 24 bodegas selling K2. He even went so far as to produce a video of one of his staff members successfully purchasing five bags on August 7th.