At a number of bodegas in southeast Queens, customers can legally purchase a product that produces a marijuana-like high, but while the weed may be fake, the dangerous side effects are real.
Basheer Ahmed, manager of the Bashir Famous Deli in Rochdale, Friday became the first to sign City Councilman Ruben Wills’ (D-Jamaica) pledge to ban from his store’s shelves synthetic marijuana, a product ostensibly sold as an herbal incense, but one critics say teens and young adults are smoking to get high.
“This is a problem that’s become increasingly more pervasive in our community,” said Wills, who stood outside the shop on the corner of Guy R. Brewer Boulevard and 140th Avenue, along with fellow Councilman James Sanders (D-Jamaica) and state Assemblywoman Vivian Cook (D-Jamaica) to announce their plan to rid their neighborhoods of the products.
Sold under names such as “Spice,” “K2,” “Blaze” and “Red X Dawn,” these products consist of plant material that has been coated with chemicals that mimic THC, the active ingredient in marijuana.
Addiction expert Herman Lozada said the chemicals were originally made in labs to do research on animals and can produce side effects in humans such as hallucinations, heart palpitations, paranoia and aggression.
He said they are not regulated by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and marked “not for human consumption,” adding that packaging that often depicts cartoon characters leaves little to question about whom they are being marketed to.
“It doesn’t smell like marijuana, and because it doesn’t smell kids are getting away with it,” he said.
Wills said he was working on legislation that would criminalize the sale and possession of synthetic marijuana as well as introducing a resolution in support of a federal bill that would do the same.
“What we’ve done is not just a legislative approach, but a common-sense, grassroots approach,” he added.
The councilman also made signs that store owners can display in their windows, pledging not to sell synthetic marijuana. A survey conducted by Wills in December found 12 out of 58 bodegas in southeast Queens? selling the fake pot.
“Some had it on the shelf, but didn’t know what it was,” he said. “To their credit, if ignorance can be a credit, many of them don’t know what they’re selling.”
Others, he said, know what they are selling. The councilman accused shop owners of price gouging, noting the price of a package that cost $5 in December now costs $8.