‘Zombie’ takeover: K2 drug epidemic strikes NYC

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New York lawmakers are demanding that internet companies stop selling synthetic marijuana, known as K2, widely used among New York’s homeless population. The city and state have already launched an aggressive campaign to limit sales in convenience stores.

The drug is a potent mix of herbs sprayed with synthetic cannabinoids, and is sold in a plastic bag for a dollar or two. It can cause hallucinations that last all day, and more severe psychotic episodes, paranoia, anxiety than marijuana. Critics say it can also cause side effects such as vomiting, agitation and rapid heart rate.

New York city and state already have laws prohibiting the sale of synthetic marijuana in bodegas, with fines of $500. Lawmakers are now sending letters to online retailers, eBay, Craigslist and Backpage asking them to remove the listings for the drugs.

“The internet has now become a virtual bodega and a chemist’s warehouse, where all of these products that are commonly purchased by young people can now be purchased online,” New York state Senator Jeffrey Klein, who represents the Bronx, said Thursday, according to The Observer.

Klein said the drug is striking people across all ages and income levels.

The New York Times ran a profile on Wednesday featuring a stretch of 125th street in Harlem as the ground zero for a growing K2 problem, with accounts of people passed out, lovers getting partially undressed to make out, or others falling into trances.

“It was early afternoon when the man with the twitching legs was dragged from the ground into an ambulance,” the Times wrote. “Another man selling books washed away the vomit.

New York lawmakers are considering other laws to combat the epidemic. One would allow the city to shut down a business for selling K2 under its “nuisance abatement law.”

City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito, whose district includes the strip on 125 Street, said she would introduce a law banning substances marketed as synthetic marijuana or any imitation drug that had a similar effect. It is seen as a move to stop manufacturers skirting the law, which they have been able to do up until now by frequently changing the chemical mix as substances are banned.

“It is a dangerous, unpredictable and illegal substance and for too long unscrupulous stores and online marketplaces have profited,” said Mark-Viverito, according to the New York Post.

State lawmakers are also proposing increasing fines for stores up to $2,000 for the first offense, then up to $5,000 for a second offense. A third offense would revoke the store’s license to sell lottery tickets, beer and cigarettes. There is also a proposal to criminalize the sale, with prison terms of five-and-a-half years for sellers caught with 16 ounces of the drug.

As lawmakers grapple with the growing K2 problem, Bronx Assemblyman Mark Gjonaj said: “Our city streets are being taken over by zombies…we cannot look the other way,” reported the New York Post.