Federal agents and their local counterparts in New York City announced that they have launched a major assault on synthetic marijuana and its traffickers.
Authorities said on Sept. 16 that they were targeting an international trafficking ring with criminal charges following a spike in the use of K2 on the East Coast. K2, also known as Spice, is a type of synthetic weed created in labs and sprayed on inert plant matter.
Synthetic marijuana has led to a rash of hospitalizations and a handful of fatalities in recent weeks, mostly in the Northeast. Unlike real weed, it’s highly dangerous and can consist of a wide variety of chemical cocktails. There is no way for a user to know whether a particular batch of K2 is potent enough to kill.
Raids carried out across the city
Officials said they had filed charges against 10 people and carried out a series of raids on about 90 bodegas across the city. Many of these shops sell K2 as a “legal” herb for use as incense, even though the drug is banned by federal law.
K2 is most popular among kids and homeless people, who have only limited access to real pot. The high produced by synthetic weed is similar to the real thing, but the side effects can be disastrous: tachycardia, high blood pressure, and seizures, among other severe consequences of overdose.
Police said the raids have broken up a Bronx-based drug ring that made industrial quantities of K2 with illegal chemicals from China. The traffickers added solvents and flavoring, and then sent the product to the retail market. Synthetic cannabis is typically found in small, under-the-radar head shops and convenience stores.
Feds dedicated to eradicating synthetic weed
Federal authorities hailed the raids as the start of a larger effort to eradicate K2 and other varieties of synthetic weed. The drug is especially hard to control because it’s cheap and because it’s relatively easy to manipulate its chemical makeup.
“Today’s collective action is just the start of a response, one that will not end until this poison in a packet no longer endangers our community,” said Preet Bharara, U.S. attorney for the Southern District of New York.
Bharara said K2 triggered a “public health crisis that had reached epic proportions,” and said store owners were intentionally marketing synthetic marijuana to teens and homeless people. Those shops bear as much blame as the traffickers, he said.
Distributors will be targeted alongside traffickers
“We will, if appropriate, arrest store owners who openly peddle poison,” Bharara said. “Don’t take any chances and do a public service: Stop selling Spice now.”
The raids hit at least six bodegas in a small portion of Harlem, an epicenter of the K2 plague where police say homeless people gather to smoke it. They typically become incapacitated, causing problems police say they can’t solve. William Bratton, the city’s police commissioner, said state and local laws limit options for dealing with synthetic weed.
That, Bratton said, is why the New York Police Department partnered with federal agencies, including the DEA, in conducting the raids.
“We currently don’t have sufficient criminal laws to move against them,” he said. “The federal government and the U.S. attorney certainly do.”