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Politics and Government

State lawmakers want legislation to curb synthetic marijuana epidemic

Ellen Abbott
WRVO News File Photo

State lawmakers are getting reports from boots on the ground in the fight against synthetic cannabinoids, often called synthetic marijuana.  A state Senate summit on synthetics held in Syracuse Thursday included stories from mothers of children who died after using the illicit substances.

Teresa Woolson of Oswego had talked with her son about using the synthetic drugs, which he’d purchased in a local store, shortly before he died three years ago.

"His words were, ‘How bad can it be Mom?’ I didn’t know what this stuff was. I was starting to look it up. ‘How bad can it be Mom, it’s right in the store.’”

Credit Ellen Abbott / WRVO News
Teresa Woolson, of Oswego, holds a picture of her son who died from synthetic marijuana. She attends the IDC public hearing on the drug in Syracuse Thursday.

And that’s the problem, says Woolson and several other experts at the summit. Users think that it’s fine because it’s widely available -- online and in stores. But the chemical make-up of these drugs -- also known as K-2, spike or spice -- can kill. 

As Deirdre Canaday, another anti synthetic drug activist who lost her son to these substances, notes, the fake marijuana is very volatile.

"If you take one packet and cut it in quadrants,  in four; were to  make four joints out of it, each and every person could get a different chemical cannabinoid, and a different reaction. If you watch one person smoke it they’re okay, from the same packet the next person can go into a coma and never wake up,” said Canaday.

And she says synthetic marijuana is nothing like what’s marketed to kids.

"This drug that’s being called fake weed is zero percent marijuana and 100 percent dangerous. They’re actually psycho-tropic drugs that bind to cannabinoid receptors in the brain, but then they act nothing like cannabis does in the brain. It acts more like P-C-P or angel dust in the past.” 

Both these moms are hoping that legislation introduced last summer by the state Senate’s Independent Democratic Conference makes headway in Albany. The proposed legislation would criminalize sale of certain drugs, making it a felony, and crack down on businesses found selling them.   

As is often in the case of Albany politics, it’s the Senate versus the Assembly.  IDC Sen. Jeff Klein says stakeholders need to put more pressure on the Assembly, which has balked at supporting the legislation in the past.

"I’m getting tired of getting the same answer that they don’t want to do anything on this issue.  They don’t want to create more crimes, they don’t want to criminalize more things,” said the senator.

Klein says he’ll introduce legislation again next year, and is hopeful that evidence of the epidemic changes some minds in Albany.