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De Blasio signs bills to combat synthetic marijuana

The New York City Council is expected to

The New York City Council is expected to pass legislation Wednesday banning the manufacture and sale of synthetic marijuana, pictured in an undated photo. Credit: Spencer Platt / Getty Images

Mayor Bill de Blasio signed legislation Tuesday for tougher penalties to stop the manufacture and sale of synthetic marijuana in New York City.

Speaking in East Harlem, a community that has been an epicenter of hospitalizations the city blames on the drug, de Blasio signed three bills that can result in fines and jail for store owners who sell the drug.

"Let's be clear. K-2 is a poison," de Blasio said referring to the drug by a street name, before signing the legislation. He added: "So we're getting K-2 off of our streets -- and out of the hands of New Yorkers before it causes more harm to our city."

The legislation takes effect in 60 days. Backers say they're targeting sellers, not users.

Hospital emergency rooms have seen a spike in visits from the use of K-2, a relatively cheap drug of leaves chemically sprayed that is increasingly popular with teenagers, among the homeless and others. At least one person died in the city as a result of K-2, according to Health Commissioner Dr. Mary Bassett, who said her agency is monitoring hospital emergency room visits to measure the drug's impact.

"People, when they hear the word synthetic marijuana, I think they have an image of somebody in a white lab coat in a lab, making something up according to a protocol," she said. "It's not like that. The thing you should think of is somebody in a T-shirt in a warehouse, hosing down leaves."

Synthetic marijuana is sometimes peddled as Scooby Snax or Spice. Backers of the bills, passed last month by the City Council, say the K-2 packaging is sometimes meant to entice young people to use the drug.

While state law already bans the drug, backers blame manufacturers for skirting the law by tinkering with chemical composition.

"If you manufacture K-2, if you possess K-2 with the intent to sell it, or if you sell K-2, you are now going to come up against the greatest police force in the world," de Blasio said.

Possessing at least nine packages of K-2 qualifies a person for the sale charge, according to Rob Messner, who oversees the NYPD's civil enforcement unit.

The legislation -- three bills -- seeks to close supposed loopholes and employ nuisance laws to target stores and vendors that sell K-2. Violators face fines, business closure or jail time.

One of the penalties for a first synthetic-marijuana-sale offense is a 30-day suspension of a license to sell cigarettes. A second offense is punishable by revocation.

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