The troubling news reports began late last year, describing the dangers linked with the use of synthetic marijuana or herbal incense products sold over-the-counter.
Whether it was teens suffering severe health problems such as seizures, blackouts and kidney failure or exhibiting psychotic episodes or violent behavior, the use of the chemical-laced plant substances sold as “Posh,” “Wicked X” or “K2” prompted grave concerns among law enforcement officials, medical professionals and emergency responders.
At first were the local reports of young teens suffering convulsions and hallucinations — and burglarizing stores to obtain the substances. Emergency medical responders witnessed people threatening suicide or exhibiting demented behavior, as well as experiencing vomiting, high blood pressure, heart attacks and swelling of the brain.
Then there was the local news report in October that a Fort Edward man violently attacked a woman — attempting to strangle her and shove his fist down her throat — after smoking herbal incense. He told authorities he didn’t remember what had happened after his smoking session.
Also, reports were heard nationwide of various deaths and suicides blamed on psychotic behavior linked to the drug.
The same month, a Glens Falls woman was stabbed over a dozen times by her teenage son after he smoked synthetic marijuana. At the youth’s recent sentencing, the woman — who is facing permanent injuries — pleaded with the judge to be lenient, because his behavior was prompted by the drug and he had no prior criminal record.
We applaud the administration of Gov. Andrew Cuomo for imposing a ban two weeks ago to halt the sale of synthetic marijuana products, which officials say are highly addictive and a pose a severe health hazard.
The immediate ban was a measure enacted through the state Health Department, because Cuomo and other state officials sought to protect the state’s citizens as soon as possible — by bypassing the lengthy process of getting such laws approved in the state legislature.
Cuomo and Health Commissioner Nirav Shah deserve credit for taking such fast action. We also support U.S. Sen. Charles Schumer’s campaign to criminalize the substances nationally.
We in the Adirondacks, however, can be particularly proud that our county leaders, law enforcement officials and community activists have been leading the way on banning these dangerous substances.
In February, a group called Bringing Essex County Strengths Together — which included Elizabethtown-area students and youth advocates — met with area leaders, local politicians and law enforcement officials to warn them about the dangers associated with synthetic marijuana.
The meeting resulted in a campaign to urge area stores to voluntarily stop selling the substances. Key adult leaders in this effort were Essex County Community Resources Director Michael Mascarenas, Elizabethtown Social Center Director Arin Burdo, and Mac MacDevitt, community prevention coordinator of the Substance Abuse Prevention Team of Essex County.
In addition, credit goes to Essex County District Attorney Kristy Sprague and county Sheriff Richard Cutting, who demonstrated leadership in calling for a ban.
In Warren County, credit goes to Lake George citizen activist Joanne Gavin for urging the local town board to enact a ban, and not wait for federal and state authorities to take action.
Within days of Gavin’s plea, Warren County District Attorney Kate Hogan and local state Trooper James West urged county supervisors to criminalize the sale, use or possession of the substances.
These supervisors, serving on the county Criminal Justice committee, endorsed a law that had been drafted by county Attorney Martin Auffredou and county Administrator Paul Dusek. The law is to come before the full Board of Supervisors this next week, and it is expected to receive unanimous support.
We applaud their swift response. Kudos also go to Hogan and county Sheriff Bud York and his staff.
Drugs remain the No. 1 destructive force tearing apart families as well as prompting criminal behavior, including violent crimes.
There’s not only a high cost to society in deaths, injuries, mental health costs and crime, but the taxpayers pay exorbitant amounts to incarcerate, prosecute and rehabilitate the offenders.
It is vitally important to understand, however, that although we have apparently won an initial round in ridding our region of synthetic marijuana, the fight is far from over.
Although selling the substances is now subject to a civil penalty, possessing it or using it isn’t yet illegal, law enforcement officials have warned. People can merely cross state lines to obtain it.
More comprehensive legislation is needed to criminalize its distribution, sale, possession and use.
We strongly urge our counties to adopt such legislation as soon as possible, and we implore our state and national politicians to follow suit and not waste time in ridding our society of such harmful and toxic substances.
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