March 29, 2012
By Emily Donohue
The Saratogian

ALBANY — New York state Health Commissioner Dr. Nirav R. Shah issued an order Thursday morning to ban the sale of synthetic marijuana.

Synthetic marijuana — sold in convenience stores and smoke shops under brand names like “Spice,” “K2” and “Galaxy Gold” — is plant material coated by chemicals that mimic the effects of THC, the active ingredient in marijuana.

Synthetic marijuana has been linked to crimes locally and nationally and can cause dangerous side effects like increased heart rates, paranoia, agitation, nausea, renal failure and even death.

The commissioner’s order calls for the sale of synthetic marijuana to stop immediately. Local health department officials are tasked with enforcing the ordinance; violators can face civil penalties.

Saratoga County Director of Public Health Karen A. Levison was not available for comment Thursday.

Maureen Cary of the Saratoga Partnership for Prevention said her organization and the Prevention Council have gone into local stores asking shop owners to stop selling the product, or at least to store it out of view. Most stores have been receptive to those efforts.

Thursday’s ban, she said, “sends a good strong message.”

“I hope the local businesses that sell this product will understand that it isn’t in their best interest,” she said.

At Smoke and Save in Congress Plaza in Saratoga Springs, a manager said the product was removed from the store’s shelves Wednesday night.

Theresa Sheffer, the owner of Smoke & Fire on Caroline Street in Saratoga Springs, said she stopped selling synthetic marijuana several months ago because she didn’t like the product.

“We don’t know what’s in it, and it was apparent that it obviously wasn’t good,” she said.

Customers still come into her store daily looking for the product, and she uses those interactions as an opportunity to educate her clientele on the dangerous side effects of the synthetic drug.

“People don’t realize the risks,” she said.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.