U.S. Senator Charles Schumer speaks during a press conference at the U.S. Courthouse Thursday, Feb. 23, 2012 in Albany, N.Y. Joined by local law enforcement and Albany Mayor Jerry Jennings, left, Schumer announced a push for legislation that would make synthetic pot illegal, and impossible for producers to slightly alter chemical compound to make it legal again. (Lori Van Buren / Times Union)

Sen. Chuck Schumer, joined by region officials, urges a national ban
By Robert Gavin
Thursday, February 23, 2012
Albany Times Union

ALBANY — Three years ago, poison control centers across America reported only 13 calls from patients who had used synthetic marijuana. In 2010, those numbers jumped to more than 1,000. Last year, they exceeded 6,500.

Those alarming statistics were highlighted Thursday as U.S. Sen. Chuck Schumer called for a nationwide ban on so-called “herbal blends” marketed as potpourri or incense, but which officials say is nothing more than fake pot.

And when smoked, doctors say, the products pose more dangers than illegal marijuana — including a greater risk of a heart attack.

“How is it possible that such a dangerous drug can be sold on shelves and convenience stores?” Schumer, D-New York, asked at a news conference. “Because our are laws are such that they don’t outlaw a drug that is almost exactly like marijuana except it has a few molecules rearranged, even though it has the same effects as marijuana. They call it a different name, they slightly change the chemical make-up and it’s legal — and that’s a real problem for us.”

Schumer noted, “This can be sold to 10-or-12-year-olds.”

Recent reports have shown the synthetic weed can lead to “dangerous, erratic and sometimes even deadly behavior,” Schumer said at an event inside the James T. Foley U.S. Courthouse on Broadway.

Dr. Michael Dailey, an emergency physician at Albany Medical Center Hospital, said the synthetic products mimic the intoxicating effect of tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC, the active ingredient in marijuana, but have no useful purpose. Chemically, the products all seem to be “much more dangerous than THC,” he said.

He said the product can lead to extremely high blood pressure, profoundly fast heart rates, dangerous high temperatures and heart attacks.

“I personally have cared for patients that have been on these drugs,” he said, joined by Albany Mayor Jerry Jennings, Albany County Executive Daniel McCoy and law enforcement officials from around the region. “I’ve seen normally polite, appropriately interactive, delightful teenagers as well as young people, become frankly psychotic, violent and paranoid. These patients have required physical and chemical restraint.”

The fake pot — sold under names such as “K-2,” “Haze” and “Spice” — has remained legal in spite of federal laws, due to slight alterations made to its chemical make-up, Schumer said. The U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration administratively banned five chemical compounds found in fake pot.

Schumer supported a proposed federal law that would classify the products as Schedule I controlled substances akin to heroin and LSD. The bill has already passed the House of Representatives but not the Senate, where Sen. Rand Paul, R-Kentucky, has opposed any ban and delayed its passing, Schumer said. He said he expects the bill — the David Mitchell Rozga Act, named for an 18-year-old Iowa youth who used such a drug and committed suicide — to pass the Senate shortly.

“It’s got to be stopped in its tracks,” Schumer said, adding, “When you have a new drug that’s brought into the area, or even brought into the country, the best thing to do is snuff it out quickly and hard. Otherwise it gains hold and it’s much harder to eradicate.”

In late June, the Times Union visited several area shops to gauge the prevalence of the product. One Center Square business displayed more than a dozen brands, including “Spike,” “Space,” “Super Kush,” “Green Kobra,” “Demon,” “Dojah” “Cloud 9.” “Sweet Lucy” sold for $24.99-a-gram, while small bags of “Willow Pillow” went for $10 a piece.

An $18 bag of Spike’s Silver variety stated it did not contain banned substances — and was not for human consumption or to be inhaled in any way. But the website for Spike displayed the words, “Live the High Life, High Life USA.” An Internet check revealed a website for “High Life USA” advertising itself as “The World’s Leading Online Smoke Shop.”

A bill to ban the substances passed the state Senate last year, but not the Assembly.

“If powdered cocaine was simply stamped powdered sugar, it wouldn’t be legal,” Schumer said. “Well, synthetic marijuana shouldn’t be legal just because it masquerades by another name and has slightly different chemicals.”