Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo announces new rules on synthetic drugs

This file photo shows containers of bath salts, This file photo shows containers of bath salts, synthetic stimulants that mimic the effects of traditional drugs like cocaine and speed. (Jan. 26, 2011) Photo Credit: AP

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ALBANY -- Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo announced new regulations Tuesday aimed at curbing abuse of so-called "bath salts" and other synthetic drugs that have spiked in popularity in recent years.

Cuomo said the state Health Department will expand the list of prohibited drugs and chemicals to include dozens more substances that are now used to make synthetic drugs. The aim is to block distributors from getting around current sales bans by modifying ingredients.

Under the new regulations, the owner of a store and employees selling synthetic drugs can be charged with possession of an illicit substance. Violators will face fines up to $500 and up to 15 days in jail.

The move comes a month after President Barack Obama signed a federal law to ban designer drugs and synthetic marijuana. It also follows a state legislative session in which the governor and lawmakers couldn't reach a deal on a synthetic-drug crackdown, and a flurry of lawsuits filed by state Attorney General Eric Schneiderman against two dozen businesses across the state to remove bath salts from store shelves.

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"This is poison. These are illegal drugs," Cuomo said at a Manhattan news conference. "It is a new face on an old enemy."

"Bath salts" are often marketed as a legal way to get high and are sold in convenience stores, smoke shops and online. Authorities say bath salts can produce effects similar to that of cocaine and amphetamines. Some name brands of bath salts include White Lightning, Snow Leopard, Tranquility, Zoom, Ivory Wave, Red Dove and Vanilla Sky. Synthetic marijuana is sold under names including Spice, K2, Blaze and Red Dawn X.

According to Cuomo's office, medical emergencies related to synthetic drugs have risen sharply. In 2011, there were 39 reported emergency room visits in upstate New York as a result of bath salts -- but 191 so far in 2012.

In 2010 there were 20 calls to the New York State Poison Control Center regarding synthetic marijuana poisonings. There were 291 in 2011 and 321 through the first six months of 2012.

Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos (R-Rockville Centre) applauded the new regulations but said the state should go further -- making the sale and possesion of bath salts a felony.

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He chided the Democrat-led Assembly for failing to back such a bill earlier this year.

Sen. John Flanagan (R-East Northport), a leading voice on the issue, said the state needs "stronger criminal sanctions" and that "15 days in jail just isn't enough" to stem the spike in the use of such drugs.

Schneiderman has filed numerous lawsuits against smoke shops accusing them of violating labeling laws by selling synthetic drugs labled as "potpourri," "incense" or other household products. Last week a Baldwin smoke shop agreed to pay $17,000 in fines to settle a case involving mislabled drugs.

With Dan Janison

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