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NYPD issues bulletin about synthetic marijuana crisis

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MANHATTAN — Alarmed by growing numbers of people having violent reactions after smoking synthetic marijuana, the NYPD issued a bulletin this week calling for officers to be trained on identifying symptoms of “excited delirium syndrome.”

“This is causing a medical emergency,” said Assistant Commissioner Robert Messner, from the NYPD’s Legal Affairs bureau. “This is going to be a city-wide effort.”

Synthetic marijuana is not really pot at all. Many delis in Harlem, the Bronx and Brooklyn sell it as incense and potpourri, marking it with a warning that it’s “not for human consumption." But these same shops also sell rolling paper and pipes that are used to ingest the product, which is often sprayed with chemicals to cause a high.

The stuff is sold under different brand names, like K2, Spice, Wet Lucy, and AK-47. The chemicals can trigger psychotic episodes in some users, making them difficult to control and medically treat.

“This is much more like the PCP, the angel dust, that was seen in the '70s and '80s,” Messner said.

Messner pointed out that in February this year, there were 63 visits to city emergency rooms connected to bad reactions to synthetic pot. By June, that number had skyrocketed to 776, according to Health Department statistics.

PIX11 Investigates aired a special report about the synthetic marijuana crisis early last week. Three days later, New York City conducted another round of checks on five, East Harlem stores that had received warnings from the Health Department not to sell the incense and potpourri.

In one store on Lexington Avenue, LX, police and officials from the Department of Consumer Affairs, Sheriff’s Department and Health Department said they found more than 2,000 packs of the illegal product, which is often sold for $5 or $6 a pack.

The assistant commissioner is warning stores selling the product secretly that the city is “not going away on this issue.”

“If stores don’t comply, if they continue to do this, I think….it will come to legal action to shut the stores down,” Messner said. “We would be asking a judge to determine that these places are public nuisances. And public nuisances can be ordered closed.”

Under New York State’s Sanitary Code, selling this kind of substance is considered a violation, which, at most, could carry a penalty of 15 days in jail. The stores that were raided recently had received notices from the Health Commissioner ordering them not to sell the products. Violating the Health Commissioner’s order is considered a misdemeanor.

The NYPD and other city agencies are now lobbying the state legislature to include synthetic marijuana products on a larger list of banned substances.

Mary Pannell, a Harlem resident, called PIX11 after our first report aired.

“What I want to say to your station is thank you for showing what could happen to the young people,” Pannell said.

The poison "pot"is also being abused by older addicts looking for a cheap high that won’t be detectable on urine tests. The NYPD points out the most vulnerable in our city — the homeless, the mentally ill, and methadone patients — are among the people most likely to become addicted.