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Police cracking down on synthetic marijuana sales in Syracuse

Ellen Abbott
Onondaga County District Attorney Bill Fitzpatrick speaks at a news conference in Syracuse Tuesday

Prosecutors and police agencies across central New York are trying a new strategy as they continue to fight the rising use of synthetic marijuana. Not since the bath salts craze of 2012 have local police and emergency personnel come across so many agitated individuals high on synthetic drugs. 

Syracuse Police Chief Frank Fowler says officers find people who’ve overdosed on synthetic marijuana in all sorts of ways.

"We had one person, a guy, down on the street, with a head injury," said Fowler. "We assumed from that it was a hit and run. But when the person started to come around, he started to pound his head on the pavement. We knew from that, that’s what caused the injury.”

Credit Ellen Abbott / WRVO News
WRVO News File Photo
Packets of synthetic marijuana are being sold at stores in the Syracuse area

Fowler says there have been over 90 arrests since April for people selling synthetic marijuana, often called “spike.” With rising numbers of cases, and no criminal laws that directly make selling these packets of synthetic pot illegal, Fowler went to Onondaga County District Attorney Bill Fitzpatrick.  

"The reason you can’t charge them under existing criminal penal law sections, regarding controlled substances, is that they’re constantly changing the formula," said Fitzpatrick. "So we’re using existing statues, reckless endangerment, because as the chief said, this is poison. If somebody sold arsenic and put and M&M’s label on it, we’d arrest them, wouldn’t we?”

So starting this week, Syracuse police are distributing letters to the owners of every store owner in Syracuse, warning them that if they are caught selling the synthetic drugs, owners will be prosecuted on reckless endangerment charges. On top of that, if they’re found selling the drugs, state authorities will consider pulling licenses allowing these stores to sell alcohol or lottery tickets. 

“The state of New York is going to do the best they can to stop any store that sells spike, from selling lottery tickets, distributing or selling alcohol, or anything else that needs a state license," said Fitzpatrick. "And we may go so far, with multiple offenders, to seize these stores under public health law and under local law from the city of Syracuse.”

Stores will also face public health law citations, that went on the books during the bath salts craze. Fowler hopes getting at the source of the sales of the synthetic marijuana, stops a drug craze before it turns deadly.

"It's only a matter of time before someone is going to lose their life using this stuff," said Fowler.