The Mayor signed a series of laws today criminalizing K2, part of the City’s continuing effort to crack down on the use and sale of synthetic marijuana. The drug, which Mayor de Blasio and Police Commissioner Bratton both referred to as “poison,” is a liquid substance manufacturers spray on herbs. It has been marketed as incense, spice and, perhaps the most hilarious departure from its actual use, bath salts.
The new laws expand upon the federal government’s 2012 ban on some synthetic cannabinoids and New York State’s own restrictions (in the form of “emergency Health Department regulations” regarding “synthetic marijuana,” which were issued by Governor Cuomo first in 2012 and then again in 2015), by making it a crime to manufacture, possess with intent to sell, and sell K2 and all chemically-related imitation substances. The misdemeanor is punishable by up to one year in jail, fines, as well as civil action by the City. Until now, manufacturers have managed to stay one step ahead of law enforcement and legislation efforts to prohibit the drug by changing the compound just slightly.
The City Council unanimously passed the same bills at the end of September, but with the Mayor’s approval criminalization will become effective in 60 days. Last week, City Council Member Antonio Reynoso convened a neighborhood task force for a press conference at the intersection of Myrtle and Broadway in Bushwick. The area was deemed a problem spot after local authorities received a number of K2-related complaints from neighbors and local businesses. Reynoso referred to the intersection as an “eyesore,” underscoring the completion of a week-long series of minor beautification efforts that are part of a holistic response to the “K2 epidemic.”
“This is solution-oriented work, this is about finding out what problems people have— so you’re on K2, we’re going to try to find out ways to take care of you, what solutions there are for recovery. If you’re homeless, we’re bringing DHS out, so DHS can deal with that issue. If you’re selling K2 illegally, yes, you’re going to get fined– that’s very important,” Reynoso told B+B after the public meeting.
The new laws are in keeping with Reynoso’s conviction that punishing people at the user level will only exacerbate the K2 problem and make things worse for people abusing the substance. (Many of those users, according to to the Department of Health and Mental Hygiene are homeless or mentally ill; the drug has also been linked to a dramatic increase in emergency room visits since January). In fact, one of the three laws, Intro 917-A, specifically outlines that anyone who is not selling, making, or otherwise distributing or advertising the drug be shielded from prosecution.
“These laws do not punish the individual who is held in the grip of this toxic drug — we understand that some of the people who use this drug are the most vulnerable in our city,” de Blasio told the crowd at today’s press conference.
Another law included in the package makes anti-K2 efforts applicable under the city’s Nuisance Abatement Laws, meaning the City will now have the power to sue businesses into oblivion if they’re found repeatedly selling or manufacturing the substance.
At today’s press conference, the Mayor invoked charged language reminiscent of rhetoric used by authorities during the crack epidemic. He referred to the “plague of K2” as a “new menace” that has caused immense harm and listed off a variety of busts carried out by the NYPD in partnership with the DEA, part of a “vigorous set of actions” already taken by the City in an effort to get rid of the drug.
The Mayor said the laws signed today are the “next step” in eradicating the K2 epidemic which neighborhoods like the East Village and East Harlem have bore the brunt of. He also took the opportunity to flatter the NYPD by warning manufacturers and would-be dealers that they will “now come up against the greatest police force in the world that will be empowered […] to act more aggressively.”
Interestingly, 917-A also criminalizes the manufacture, sale, and possession with intent to sell of phenethylamines, a class of drugs that include substances known as “designer drugs” such as 2C-B and 2C-I, which are taken for their hallucinatory effects similar to psychedelics like LSD (well, “similar” as in how a raging fire and fireworks are related).
“This has taken a toll on too many New Yorkers and too many communities already. It’s something we haven’t seen the likes of in the past and it was crucial before this trend got any worse to act decisively,” de Blasio said at the press conference. “We’re getting K2 off our streets and out of the hands of New Yorkers before it causes more harm to our city.”