President Barack Obama signed a federal law Monday banning the sale of synthetic marijuana and bath salts, backing up the ban implemented by the New York State Department of Health (DOH) in March.
Obama signed the new drug legislation, the Food and Drug Administration Safety and Innovation Act, which according to Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., permanently bans the deadly chemical compounds marketed and sold as bath salts and incense in all states. Congress passed the bill June 26.
“President Obama’s swift approval of this federal ban is the final nail in the coffin for the legal sale of bath salts in smoke shops and convenience stores in New York state and throughout the rest of the country,” Schumer said. “This law will close loopholes that have allowed manufacturers to circumvent local and state bans and ensure that you cannot simply cross state lines to find these deadly bath salts, and I’m pleased that after a great deal of effort, it has become law. We have seen bath salts catalyze some of the most heinous crimes in recent months across upstate New York, and the president’s signature ensures that the federal government can fight this scourge with a united front, across state lines and at our borders.”
Schumer noted the legislation makes bath salts illegal in the United States by adding the active ingredients MDPV and mephedrone to Schedule I of the Controlled Substances Act — which classifies drugs that are illegal and cannot be prescribed under any circumstances. In addition to the bath salt compounds MDPV and mephedrone, there are 29 other substances banned by the new law — 20 synthetic marijuana compounds and nine synthetic hallucinogens.
In March, state Health Commissioner Dr. Nirav Shah issued an order banning the sale of herbal incense, known as “legal weed” and “synthetic marijuana, in compliance with Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s stance against the product. Sold under brand names including “K2,” “Spice” and “Happy Shaman,” the DOH’s order called for all sales and distribution of the products, formerly sold in head shops and gas stations statewide, to cease immediately. It also called upon local health officials to distribute the order and check for compliance statewide.
The synthetic marijuana item became a hot topic among local lawmakers, including members of the Oswego County Legislature, which in August passed a resolution encouraging the state and federal government to ban and educate the public about the products. In January, Assemblyman Will Barclay, R-Pulaski, proposed a bill to outlaw the distribution and sale of substances that mimic the effects of marijuana by amending the penal and public health laws to include synthetic cannabinoids in the definition of marijuana.
A study conducted by the National Institute on Drug Abuse has suggested that these products are a problem among children nationwide, as the report shows that 11.4 percent of high school students have used synthetic marijuana within the past year.
In March, Shah sent an alert to emergency departments, county health officials and health care providers throughout the state, warning of the threat to public health associated with the use of the products. Shah noted that synthetic marijuana sold as herbal incense consists of plant material spiked with chemicals that mimic tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC, the active ingredient in marijuana. The side effects of the product include rapid heart rate, vomiting, agitation, confusion, hallucinations and renal failure. Health officials had linked two deaths to the use of synthetic marijuana.
In addition to synthetic marijuana, bath salts have also been blamed locally for bizarre behavior. Last week, Oswego County Sheriff’s deputies arrested a man who was reported to have smoked bath salts. In their arrest of the 6-foot, 3-inch, 330-pound man, police said they had to pepper spray and Taser the combative man to take him into custody.
Standing before the judge a few days later in shackles, the man asked the judge to explain all the charges against him because he said he did not understand the severity of what he had done and why there were so many charges.
One local mother, whose identity is being kept confidential, said she believes lawmakers are on the right track, but that keeping these products out of the hands of those who seek it will be a difficult task. “I think legislation will help, but unfortunately the smoke shops don’t care what they sell,” she said. “They will simply make another product similar. Legislation needs to be much broader and the information about the dangers needs to be conveyed to the public. The kids in college are not watching the news, perhaps posters and other outlets for students to see that even if it was legal, it’s very, very dangerous.”
The mom relayed the reality she faced with her college-aged child who experienced personality changes and erratic behavior. Introduced to a product called “Pump It” during the first semester of college, she said, “Another student wanted a place to smoke it. (My child) offered (a) vehicle in the parking lot … then found that this stuff was “legal” (to buy) and very easy to obtain — right around the corner from college — and loved it.”
She noted that her child was a good student and had not been in any kind of trouble before trying bath salts. “It (skews their thinking,)” she said, “(Believing) that because it was ‘legal’ and legally sold … that it had to be OK. These kids are very vulnerable at the college level and have funds coming in from student loans to spend on ‘fun.’”
Pump-It is advertised on the Internet as a shoe deodorizing powder and as bath salts. A 500 mg container sold for $25. Despite customer reviews describing the taste, the site also warns, “This exciting and new product is very potent and will be sure to kill all odors in your shoes whenever needed. Not intended for human consumption.”
After a frightening episode, which resulted in the hospitalization of her child, the mother said, “My (child) has ‘wanted’ the Pump It since (being) hospitalized. … (For some kind of closure. … I don’t think the users remember everything that they feel and do, although they feel the need to do it over and over. “
In addition to the named chemical compounds, the new federal law provides increased fines and jail time for those convicted of drug counterfeiting. The current maximum penalty of $10,000 and up to three years in prison has increased to $4 million and up to 20 years in prison.
Aaron Curtis, Rob Taylor and Ken Sturtz contributed to this report.