A Batavia business whose owner previously said he was no longer selling products that had recently been banned by the state, appears to have kept right on selling the product, which he refers to as potpourri, but is also commonly known as synthetic marijuana.
Jason Lang, owner of The Laughing Buddha, at 238 Ellicott St., said today that he is sold out of potpourri, without specifying the time period in which he sold out his stock, and that he will soon offer a replacement product that he believes is 100-percent legal.
On Wednesday, either Lang or a representative of the store posted on the company's Facebook page, "We are temporarily out of potpourri! New merchandise coming soon!"
Sources have told The Batavian over the past few weeks that it was possible to still buy synthetic marijuana at The Buddha. You just had to whisper to an employee, "potpourri."
Lang didn't deny the allegation, but insisted that he is sold out and won't restock because after research and further consideration, he's decided he can't ethically sell products that are potentially harmful to customers.
The new product, which Lang said he found at a trade show in Atlantic City, is entirely natural -- no chemicals, no synthetic cannabinoids (so it's apparently not covered by the NYS Health Department ban), and it doesn't even carry the "not for human consumption" label warning.
"The new product is made from damiana leaf and mixed with an Asian herb," Lang said. "It provides a euphoric feeling, but it is chemical free. It's all natural."
David Whitcroft, interim health department director for Genesee County, said his department had suspicions that The Laughing Buddha was still selling products covered by the health department order, but didn't have proof.
"We haven't been there for more than two or three weeks, but we get lots of complaints," Whitcroft said. "When we go to the store for inspection, there's nothing on the shelves."
The county's ability to enforce the ban is also limited. The only thing local officials can do, Whitcroft said, is notify the state of any evidence of a violation and let the state take it from there.
Jeffrey Hammond, spokesman for the NYS Health Department, said that if the state learns of a store violating the order, it would take the complaint to the Attorney General's Office and the AG would have the power to start a process that could lead to a $2,000 fine per violation.
So far, the state hasn't sought fines against any store owners, but that might yet happen, Hammond said, without specifying any stores that may be targeted for further enforcement action.
Under the order, shop owners could challenge the state's contention that synthetic marijuana is harmful to human health. Four store owners -- none in Western New York -- did in fact seek an administrative hearing on the question, Hammond said. The hearing was held last week but the judge has not yet issued a decision.
Both the Senate and Assembly have passed legislation making synthetic marijuana a controlled substance. The two chambers must now compromise on final legislation to send to the governor for signature.
"We feel that the issue is not one of street sales, but that store owners are making the sales," said Chris Bresnan, spokesman for Assemblyman Kenneth Zabrowski, the sponsor of the Assembly bill. "When store owners realize there is a criminal penalty, we feel they will cease to sell and distribute these products."
If compromise legislation is passed before the end of the session in June, and the governor signs it into law, it would take effect in September.