TRENTON — It comes in small packets with catchy labels and marketed as incense or potpourri, though those in the know smoke it as synthetic marijuana.
But state authorities, frustrated that an earlier ban was circumvented and fearing what effects the intoxicant would have on users, have redoubled their efforts with a blanket prohibition of the products from convenience stores, gasoline stations and boardwalk concessions.
Federal and state officials moved to ban synthetic marijuana last spring but by the end of summer were finding variations of it that did not fall within the ban.
Now, state law-enforcement officials, through the Division of Consumer Affairs, have issued an across-the-board ban on synthetic marijuana products, which have quickly become a favorite for substance abuse around the state and nation, especially among teenagers.
State Attorney General Jeffrey S. Chiesa on Wednesday announced the immediate statewide ban on the manufacture, distribution, sale and possession of hundreds of man-made concoctions known as synthetic marijuana that have found their way onto the shelves of boardwalk retailers, convenience stores and other outlets where young adults and teenagers might discover the latest high.
“This action is necessary because of the unique nature of synthetic marijuana and other designer drugs,” Chiesa said at a news conference. “When one product was banned, the dealers and manufacturers found it all too easy to evade the law by creating new toxic products that have similar effects on the brain but were not specifically identified as illegal. We are now making it perfectly clear that these substances are now illegal.”
Synthetic marijuana usually is sold in small packets weighing between 500 milligrams and 3 grams each and packaged as bath salts, potpourri, incense or other seemingly harmless products but when smoked mimics the effects of marijuana.
It is branded with names like K2, K3, Spice, Kush and others inspired by cast members of the popular MTV reality series “Jersey Shore”: Ron Juice, Sour Sammi, Vanilla Vinny and Kush The Situation.
The packets contain a mixture of herbs and plant materials that are coated with chemical agents that affect the brain, Chiesa explained.
“The buyers don’t know what they are getting and what the dose will be,” Chiesa said.
Last year, federal and state authorities adopted measures that banned five known variants of synthetic marijuana. But just as fast as the ban took effect, law-enforcement officials and the medical community began to see as many as 18 different variants of the substances cropping up on retailers’ shelves and in the bloodstreams of users who sought medical treatment when the high got terribly bad, Chiesa said.
“We don’t know the long-term consequences of these compounds, but they are far more dangerous than marijuana,” said Dr. Diane Calello, a medical toxicologist with the New Jersey Poison Information and Education System. “Just because you can buy it in a convenience store or gas station doesn’t mean it is any less dangerous.”
Just days after Gov. Chris Christie signed a ban of synthetic marijuana into law, state and local police raided boardwalk retailers in Seaside Heights were they seized the designer drugs being openly sold off the counters of shops in the town.
Five deaths nationwide were tied to the use of synthetic marijuana in 2010. Most recently, in October, a 14-year-old Pennsylvania boy who smoked some of the compound from a Pez candy dispenser suffered an agonizing four-month ordeal with severely damaged lungs and died despite a double lung transplant, Chiesa said.
Last year, William Parisio, 23, of Cranford was indicted in connection with the murder March 13 of Pamela Schmidt, 22, of Warren. Authorities said Parisio struck the woman with a 12-pound dumbbell, then strangled her, all while under the influence of products containing mephedrone or methylenedioxypyrovalerone, also known as MDPV, which were being sold legally in New Jersey as over-the-counter bath salts.
Synthetic marijuana is the third-most abused substance by high school seniors nationwide, according to statistics provided by Chiesa’s office.
Poison control centers across New Jersey reported that 146 cases of synthetic marijuana use prompted a call to their tip lines in 2010, and that 92 percent of those cases required treatment at a medical facility. And the problem is steadily increasing, officials said.
Of the 146 cases in New Jersey in 2010, 70 percent originated in the Shore areas of Monmouth, Ocean and Atlantic counties, as well as in Mercer, Middlesex and Morris counties, said state Consumer Affairs Director Thomas R. Calcagni. Anyone in possession of any of the variants of synthetic marijuana has 10 days to turn it in to police, Chiesa said.
Mar. 1, 2012
NOTE: The order is attached as a PDF
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