TRENTON – Legislation sponsored by Senator Shirley K. Turner (D – Mercer, Hunterdon) that prohibits the manufacture, sale, or possession of synthetic marijuana has been signed into law by Governor Christie.
The law, S1783, adds synthetic or man-made marijuana to the state’s list of Schedule 1 Controlled Dangerous Substances. That makes it subject to the highest level of state control. Manufacturing, distribution, sale, or possession of synthetic marijuana is now a third-degree crime, subject to a fine of up to $25,000 and imprisonment for three to five years.
“No matter what name they are using to try to push the sale of this substance, drugs are drugs,” said Turner. “Synthetic marijuana can have the same serious side effects as other illegal drugs, and should be treated as such. Under this measure, dealers will no longer be able to skirt the law and endanger the health and lives of our children.”
Synthetic marijuana is usually sold in small packets of approximately 500 milligrams to three grams, with commonly known names such as “Spice,” “K2,” “Blaze,” and “Red Dawn X.” Sometimes these designer drugs, man-made substances designed to mimic the effects of marijuana, are also labeled as incense or potpourri to evade law enforcement. Synthetic marijuana is sold in tobacco and smoke shops, drug paraphernalia shops, convenience stores, and over the Internet. Last year, a shop in Lawrenceville and two shops in Mount Holly were busted for selling synthetic marijuana. In addition, this past July, six shops along the boardwalk in Wildwood and one in Rio Grande (Cape May County) were busted for selling synthetic marijuana.
Poison control centers and hospitals have reported an increase in patients who suffer from side effects due to usage of synthetic marijuana. The New Jersey Poison Education and Information System received 146 calls reporting the exposure to synthetic marijuana in 2011- a 711 percent increase from 2010. Serious side effects include: violent seizures, dangerously elevated heart rates, anxiety attacks, hallucinations, and death.
“If the events that occurred last year showed us anything, it’s that these substances are out there and they are being purchased by children. Enacting a statewide ban through law serves to highlight the dangers of this substance and send a message that we are serious about cracking down on those attempting to target minors with designer drugs,” added Turner.
At least 39 states have legislatively banned synthetic cannabinoids in some form, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. In past years, legislation has targeted specific versions of the drugs. However, because variations in the chemical makeup of the drugs can create new substances not covered by law, state legislatures have begun focusing on entire classes of substances, according to the NCSL.
The bill passed the Senate last October with a vote of 39-0. The General Assembly approved the bill in January with a vote of 73-1. The law takes effect immediately.