President Obama signed the Synthetic Drug Abuse Prevention Act of 2012 into law on Wednesday as part of the Food and Drug Administration Safety and Innovation Act. The legislation provides boosts national, state and local efforts to address the threat of synthetic drugs. The federal legislation bans synthetic compounds commonly found in synthetic marijuana ("K2" or "Spice"), synthetic stimulants ("Bath Salts"), and hallucinogens, by placing them under Schedule I of the Controlled Substances Act.
In Rockland County, Legislator Frank Sparaco spearheaded legislation last year to restrict sales of , a type of synthetic marijuana. And announced in May the state assembly passed a bill he co-sponsored that bans synthetic marijuana. That measure would add synthetic cannabinoids, the primary ingredients in , to the state’s list of controlled substances.
Sparaco expects the federal government’s outlawing of the synthetic drugs will make more parents aware of the dangers and their availability locally.
“What I think is good is the educational impact of that,” said Sparaco. “Knowledge is key.”
Sparaco said the local law he sponsored in 2011 prohibits salvia from being sold to anyone under the age of 18. Previously, he said junior high students could purchase it easily in convenience stores, gas stations and smoke shops.
“My goal was always to bring it to the attention of parents,” he said.
In late March, the New York State Department of Health sent out an order calling for all sales and distribution of synthetic marijuana to “cease immediately.” However, violators of the order have only been subject to civil action. Zebrowski’s legislation would extend criminal penalties to synthetic marijuana and make the possession of this drug a Class A misdemeanor and the sale a Class D felony.
The State Senate had its version of a bill banning synthetic substances. Zebrowski's Chief of Staff Chris Bresnan expects the two houses will work on a compromise bill when they return to session.
"We're willing to work with the senate," Bresnan said. "We know that (for) the Assembly and Senate it's a big priority."
Last year, three young adults in Rockland County were taken to the hospital for severe reactions to synthetic marijuana.
Although the Federal ban provides a tool in keeping these substances off the shelves, the Office of National Drug Control Policy encourages states to incorporate these substances into their state drug schedules to ensure that state law enforcement agencies have full authority to act against these substances. According to ONDCP, the Drug Enforcement Administration will continue to work with state and local authorities to investigate major distribution networks, but retail and community-level enforcement will continue to occur largely on a state and local level.
Federal and state agencies will need to continually update the list of banned substances as new synthetic compounds emerge. In the near future, ONDCP will unveil a Synthetic Drug Prevention Toolkit as a resource for communities dealing with this issue.