Schumer seeks ban on synthetic marijuana

Sen. Charles Schumer holds up a bag of "Legal Phunk," a compound he is hoping to ban.

Sen. Charles Schumer holds up a bag of "Legal Phunk," a compound he is hoping to ban. Photo by Amanda Seef.

— Substances used to replicate the effects of marijuana could soon be banned by the federal government.

Synthetic marijuana, which goes by the brand names of "Spice" or "Legal Phunk" was called out today by Sen. Charles Schumer, who is co-sponsoring legislation that would effectively ban any substance used to replicate the effects of marijuana.

Two Onondaga County residents died last year after complications from smoking the substances, said Dr. Cynthia Morrow, of the Onondaga County Health Department. Another young female, Schumer said, nearly died after smoking the incense last month. The substances, which are not sold to be smoked, have been the cause of seizures, hallucinations, high blood pressure, rapid pulse and panic attacks, among other effects.

"How is it possible that such a dangerous drug is sold openly on Syracuse store shelves?" Schumer said. "Kids buy it. It's perfectly legal for a 12-year-old to buy it."

The substances are billed as incense, like the ones many will light in a home for aromas. The chemical compounds found in these products are made to replicate the high associated with marijuana use, though the substance is legal and allowable by most companies' drug policy. However, emergency room doctors are saying the compounds have been known to cause dangerous and erratic behavior.

Previous bans have outlawed particular compounds in the overall chemical makeup, allowing drug makers to produce a new product that does not use those compounds. The ban, supported by Schumer, would "cast a wide net" over existing products and other possible chemical combinations.

The drug would be illegal if it "has the same effect and intent of marijuana and it is similar in chemical makeup," Schumer said.

"We won't play this whack-a-mole game," Schumer added. He says banning each compound will not eradicate the products from the market, and that a comprehensive ban is the preferred method.

"The people who purvey these drugs and seek to make profit always find new ways," he said.

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