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Will proposal to add punishments for synthetic marijuana pass state legislature?

Ellen Abbott
WRVO News File Photo

Authorities are hoping 2016 is the year New York state gets a handle on a growing drug problem -- the increased use of synthetic cannabinoids, also known as spike or spice, which led to hundreds of hospitalizations in New York state last year. One downstate lawmaker hopes the answer lies in copying a federal law that’s been on the books since 1986.
Sen. Jeff Klein (D-Bronx) says the current patchwork system of state laws and regulations can’t keep up with the ever-changing world of synthetic cannabinoids, where the chemical make-up of these drugs can be tweaked ever so slightly, to make them technically legal. Klein, the leader of the state’s Independent Democratic Conference, says he will once again propose a law that would align state legislation with the Federal Controlled Substances Act, which mandates that any chemical substances that are analogous to already banned substances, are then themselves banned.

"So I think we have to be able to mimic what the federal government does with their analogue law, and sort of be ahead of the chemist’s curve before something even worse is developed in someone’s lab,” said Klein.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Carla Freedman agrees with this approach.

"You need to define what you’re looking for to make illegal, as opposed to naming the specific drug. And provided there are constitutional safeguards, and it’s not vague and it’s clear, that’s the way to go,” said Freedman.

Freedman says this change would give local prosecutors the ability to arrest the people selling packets of drugs on the streets. Right now, under state law, you can’t charge someone with illegal sale of these drugs because the only thing the state is operating under is a Health Department ban. The proposed legislation provides five degrees of criminal sale -- ranging from a class B misdemeanor to a class C felony, depending on the weight of the drugs sold.

Klein says the hold up in getting legislation that criminalizes the sale of these drugs, is the state Assembly, which he says is concerned about adding more laws on the books that create more crimes.

"I’m hopeful that with the epidemic that we’ve seen, not only in my home county in the Bronx, and in central New York and across the state, that they’ll finally take notice and pass my legislation."

Ellen produces news reports and features related to events that occur in the greater Syracuse area and throughout Onondaga County. Her reports are heard regularly in regional updates in Morning Edition and All Things Considered.