Bill to make fake pot illegal advances

A file photo of a package of K2, A file photo of a package of K2, a synthetic cannabis product. Photo Credit: AP, 2010

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ALBANY -- The State Senate voted Monday to make it illegal to possess or sell synthetic marijuana and methamphetamine-like substances sold as "bath salts."

Lawmakers said use among teenagers has become a growing problem, leading in some cases to hospitalizations for poisoning, and has been a factor in violent crime.

"It's a problem everywhere," said Sen. John Flanagan (R-East Northport) at a news conference. Flanagan, who sponsored the bill, said, "You have kids who . . . will go out there and try almost anything, especially if it looks like it's cool."

In March, the state health department banned the retail sale of the substances. The fake marijuana, more formally known as synthetic cannabinoid, was sold in tobacco stores, online and in convenience stores under brand names such as Spice, K2 and Cloud 9.

While the substances are illegal under federal law, the lack of a state law has prevented schools officials and local law enforcement from doing anything about their sale and use among teens, lawmakers said.

Flanagan's bill would make possession and sale of the substances subject to the same laws as marijuana and methamphetamines. Sale to a minor or on school grounds would be a felony punishable by up to 25 years in prison.

Last year the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency criminalized five chemicals used in synthetic marijuana and three chemicals in the "bath salts," formally known as substituted cathinones, on a temporary basis.

Michael Whyland, spokesman for Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver (D-Manhattan), said the bill is under review. Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo's office did not comment.

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