Many things Americans buy are made in China, so it shouldn’t be a surprise that some synthetic marijuana that can be easily purchased at stores on Frankford Avenue or Torresdale Avenue comes from China, too.
Erstaz grass doesn’t come into the United States packaged and ready to smoke, said Rafael Lamaitre, director of communications for the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy.
Synthetic marijuana is manufactured using chemicals that come from China and India. These chemicals, designer drugs known as synthetic cannabinoids, are brought into this country, legally or otherwise. Then they are sprayed on dried organic matter and packaged for sale, Lemaitre said.
They’re sold as incense with names like K2, Kush, Cloud 9, Spice or Herbal Smoke in convenience stores and gas stations all over the Northeast and other parts of the city.
Some of these products produce marijuana-like highs, but they are not illegal. Some are federally banned or are illegal in Pennsylvania. All of them are outlawed in New Jersey.
Legal or not, synthetic marijuana is now the No. 2 drug abused by high school seniors, Lamaitre told the Northeast Times last month. There are hundreds of synthetic cannibinoids used to produce it, said Dawn Dearden, a spokeswoman for the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration.
A couple years ago, the DEA got five of them banned, she said, and Congress is considering a bill that would make all of them illegal. Right now, with only a handful of these chemicals outlawed, synthetic marijuana makers can move onto chemicals that are still legal, but have the same effects.
One of the attractions of “incense” is that it can’t be detected in drug tests currently in use. It gives its users a “free and clear” high. But public health officials insist it is dangerous.
The White House said American poison control centers have reported sharp increases in the number of calls nationwide related to synthetic drugs. Last year, there were 6,959 calls related to synthetic marijuana — more than twice the 2,906 reported in 2010.
Part of the health risks of synthetic marijuana come from its potency. The chemicals that mimic the highs of real marijuana often are used in greater strength and can cause symptoms like racing heart, elevated blood pressure, paranoid behavior and hallucinations.
Dearden said the DEA has made some busts around the country but has not located any “hubs” where synthetic marijuana is packaged for distribution.
Last March, Pennsylvania made synthetic marijuana illegal. New Jersey recently initiated a full ban.
In Philadelphia, there have been three arrests for synthetic marijuana so far in 2012, said Tasha Jamerson, a spokeswoman for the district attorney’s office. All of those busts were made in Center City. In November, however, a Northeast businessman was arrested for selling synthetic narcotics, she said.
Jay Patel was arrested Nov. 2 in his store on the 7400 block of Torresdale Ave., Jamerson said. Patel will have a preliminary hearing at 8 a.m. Tuesday in Courtroom 1003 of the Criminal Justice Center.
“When he was arrested, he had K2 Kush, K2 Summit, K2 Strawberry and K2 Blackberry on him,” Jamerson said, adding that the products had a street value of about $650.EndFragment