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Potentially dangerous synthetic drugs readily available in Genesee County

By Howard B. Owens

Christopher Dailey, then the principal of Batavia High School, remembers the first time school officials came across a student with a lip balm-like container of K2.

"He handed it over to me and said, 'It's OK, it's legal,' " Daily recalled. "I turned it over and read the back label. I said, 'Did you read this?'  He said he hadn't. He didn't know what it said. It read, 'NOT FOR HUMAN CONSUMPTION.' "

While synthetic marijuana is a fairly recent issue for school officials to deal with in Batavia, Dailey emphasized it has not become a widespread problem. He characterized it as a "fad," but he also called it, "scary."

Scary is the same word used by local law enforcement and others familiar with a variety of chemicals and compounds being marketed most often as "incense" with clear instructions saying "not for human consumption."

Some of the compounds are available in Batavia retail stores, though Dailey said students interviewed by school officials indicate the chemicals are being purchased most often on the Tonawanda Indian Reservation.

The compounds fall under the general description of synthetic marijuana, synthetic cocaine and synthetic meth. Commercially, the chemical agents are known as Spice and K2 for synthetic marijuana and Ivory Wave, Vanilla Sky and Bliss for synthetic cocaine and meth.

All of the compounds are currently legal and unregulated in New York. You must be 18 years old to buy a pack of cigarettes, but there is no age restriction on Spice or K2.

Synthetic cocaine and meth are more commonly referred to as "bath salts."

While the chemicals are meant to simulate the highs of marijuana or cocaine, they have been known to cause sever reactions, from seizures, rapid heart rates, paranoia, hallucinations, chest pain, suicidal tendencies and psychosis.

There's some speculation locally that synthetic marijuana or "bath salts" are related to the outbreak of tics among teenage girls in Le Roy. When The Batavian asked Dr. Jonathan Mink about a possible connection Tuesday, he immediately shifted to a discussion of stimulants such as cocaine and said the dosage of cocaine needed to cause tics would be significant and manifest other symptoms.

Wednesday, we asked Dr. Mink to clarify whether synthetic drugs could cause tics and he said it's not a subject he has studied and lacked sufficient expertise to offer an opinion on it.

Jeremy Almeter, owner of Glass Roots on Center Street, said he gets people coming into his shop two or three times a day asking for Spice or K2. They leave disappointed.

"I won't sell it," Almeter said.

Walk into Glass Roots and it's like stepping into a time machine, back into 1960's Haight-Ashbury counterculture, but Almeter said he's seen too many problems caused by fake drugs and doesn't want his business associated with the chemicals at all.

"It just blows my mind that people would use that stuff," Almeter said. "It says right on the label, 'not for human consumption.' A lot of kids seem to think, 'it's legal so it's OK,' but actually the things that are legal are more harmful that what's illegal, specifically marijuana."

Almeter believes the spread of synthetic drugs bolsters the case for legalizing marijuana, a natural substance with effects that are known and generally not harmful. Marijuana could also more easily be controlled, whereas with synthetic drugs, they get re-engineered every time a substance gets outlawed.

In Rochester, a couple of hookah shops have opened where anybody can go in and smoke K2 or bath salts, but Almeter said he wants to offer an alternative.

Recently, he opened his own hookah room, but only offers tobacco-free, all-natural aromatics. Nothing he offers will get a person high. The idea is to sit around and enjoy some pleasant aromas and pleasant conversation.

The Laughing Buddha on Ellicott Street in Batavia advertises on its Facebook page that it sells "incense."

Premium Blend Spice & Incense, We wholesale it as well, Guaranteed best prices around on your favorite kinds such as Hammer Head, White Rhino & Grim Reefer.

Displayed in the store today were dozens of packages of White Rhino behind a glass counter.

The owner of the shop is Jay Lang, who also owns Batavia Cab Co., and at one time, Lang mentioned on Facebook that customers could have products from Laughing Buddha delivered right to their door by a cab driver. 

Today, Lang said he discontinued the practice after considering the legal implications.

"What we carry is legal and we sell it as incense," Lang said. "It's lab tested and DEA compliant. Every package comes with a warning label."

Lang said that if a customer indicates they are using the substances for anything other than incense, they are "cut off." He said he won't knowingly sell the substances to anybody he believes is consuming it.

The synthetic drugs have also been displayed on the counters of other Batavia retailers in recent months.

The use of synthetic weed in area high schools is more prevalent than school officials believe, Almeter suggested.

Dailey, who is now assistant superintendent for the Batavia City School District, said there have been times when kids came to school under the influence of fake marijuana. When it happens, he said, parents are contacted and generally the parents take the student straight to a doctor.

Because it's legal, "there's a limit on how much we can do," Dailey said. "We're as proactive as we possibly can be and we work closely with police on monitoring it and we discuss the dangers in our health classes."

For local law enforcement, the main time synthetic drugs become a legal issue is when people drive under the influence of the drugs, which is a crime.

A volunteer firefighter was recently arrested. He originally offered himself as an interview subject for this story, but later didn't show up for his interview appointment. In a pre-interview conversation, he said the arrest didn't go over well with his superiors and it opened his eyes to the dangers of fake marijuana.

While sources in law enforcement said they haven't seen a lot of those kinds of arrests, driving under the influence of anything is dangerous.

"People have to understand that while legal, much like alcohol if you’re over 21, it can still be abused and misused and effect your ability to make decisions and operate a vehicle," said Sgt. Steve Mullen, head of the Local Drug Enforcement Task Force.

Mullen said that he and his agents are focused on investigating the sale of controlled substances such as crack cocaine and heroin, so it's hard for him to confirm that the use of synthetic drugs locally is on the rise.

But he also doesn't get why people use these substances.

"It just doesn't make a lot of sense to me," Mullen said. "It says right on the packages, 'not for human consumption,' so not from a law enforcement perspective, just personally, from a commonsense perspective, if it says 'don't consume,' then why would you consume it?"

UPDATE 10:57 p.m.: On Facebook, Jay Lang is complaining the article makes it sound like his shop sells bath salts. The article states what he's advertised as products in his store and the one product I observed in his store. Those products are not known as bath salts. While law enforcement officials have told me bath salts have been known to show up in the community, there is no specific retail outlet mentioned in this article that is believed to sell bath salts.

Brenda Ranney

Lang said that if a customer indicates they are using the substances for anything other than incense, they are "cut off." He said he won't knowingly sell the substances to anybody he believes is consuming it.

Really ?

Jan 11, 2012, 10:49pm Permalink
Frank Bartholomew

This problem is bigger than most can imagine, the "spice" doesn't show up in a drug test, at least that's what I've heard, so a lot of the kids in GCASA, or other rehab programs, use spice to replace pot.
Due to spice availability, it is easier to obtain than pot, and it is legal.

Jan 12, 2012, 5:20am Permalink
Kyle Couchman

Its a funny argument, seems to me aerosol cans are legal to have but huffing isnt. Repeat offenses of this on school property could be treated anyway they choose. Since when is incence burning an activity that is acceptable on school property? So why not just be transparent and treat it so. It's reputation as a drug substitute and it's posession on school property for no good reason could still gain someone some afterschool iss or drug education courses. Be creative. Not naieve.

Jan 12, 2012, 8:06am Permalink
Chris Charvella

If it's derived from a plant make it legal, make it safe and tax the shit out of it. As a matter of fact, I'm not entirely sure how you can make plants and plant pastes illegal in the first place.

Anyway, legalizing or at least decriminalizing those things would clear a path for law enforcement to deal with truly nasty and dangerous drugs like meth as well as eliminate the demand for synthetic marijuana, cocaine etc...

Another happy byproduct of legalization of certain drugs would be the almost immediate cessation of drug violence. I'm fairly certain no one has been killed over a six pack of Budweiser since we ended Prohibition.

Jan 12, 2012, 9:47am Permalink
Brenda Ranney

Actually when I worked in a ER or a major city there were two DOA caused by not sharing alcohol,
I don't see how legalizing drugs will stop crime. Once it's legal while the price may drop, it won't be free. Users will still need to buy it. Which means that they will still try to break into my car or my home for items to sell.

Jan 12, 2012, 9:55am Permalink
Chris Charvella

So ending a large amount of drug violence by legalizing certain drugs and putting street dealers out of business is a bad idea because somebody might break into your car? Your own argument suggests that you think someone may break into your car today, so what would be the the change in your anxiety level?

Jan 12, 2012, 10:26am Permalink
Frank Bartholomew

Alcoholic beverages aren't free either, so keep your car locked, and remove valuable items. I've seen alcoholics who have been advised that if they don't stop they will die, and they ended up dying. What's that tell you.

Jan 12, 2012, 11:49am Permalink
Chris Charvella

I'm not advocating for K12, Jessica. I'm advocating for actual, good old fashioned marijuana. The apparently very dangerous Spice and K12 synthetic products exist because of our silly prohibition policy.

Jan 12, 2012, 2:36pm Permalink
Jeremiah Pedro

various chemicals in Spice and K2 were listed as schedule one controlled substances by the DEA in March of 2011. Manufacturers have been updating their products to exclude the chemicals banned in an effort to keep ahead of the current laws. It will be a never ending game of cat and mouse.

I'm with Chris, take away the incentive for the makers of these synthetic products that are a direct result of the prohibition of Marijuana.

Jan 12, 2012, 5:20pm Permalink
Brenda Ranney

No not because someone might break into my car, because I just don't think that it will work. Just my experiences having lived in other areas of the world were laws were more relaxed.
BTW I'm not anxious nor do I "store items of value in my car" never the less a few years ago I was one of many who had their car broken into on our street. One neighbor lost a cassette tape & scewdriver, another her cane, & we lost chewing gum, water bottle, and lap blanket. A street over their radio/ed player was yanked out. And if you count the actual damages to the cars ...

Jan 12, 2012, 5:27pm Permalink
Jeremiah Pedro


I would say that you really only have to look at our own country as and example. After prohibition of alcohol was lifted crimes related to the prohibition all but fell off the charts. There is still illegal production of alcohol but the law goes after these people for evading tax laws.

Jan 12, 2012, 9:08pm Permalink
chuck Ward

I'd love to see thebatavian run a story about sherwin williams and paint huffing. o wait. that would be fair. a business isn't liable for what people do with a product. i've bought some and it smells good. if people are smoking or snorting it thats on them. instead of putting a local business who does good things for the community on the hot seat you should run a story about olympia sports selling baseball bats to felons. grow up.

Jan 12, 2012, 9:17pm Permalink
Howard B. Owens

Get off it.

Lang: "It's lab tested and DEA compliant. Every package comes with a warning label."

I've bought a bit of incense in my life -- never had to be told it complied with DEA rules and needed a lab report and warning label. I never heard of people smoking incense until these products were labeled by their sellers as incense.

Glue, bats, paint, et al, all have primary purposes that have nothing to do human consumption and/or abuse. The same can't be said of Hammer Head, White Rhino and Grim Reefer.

A baseball bat doesn't need a warning label, "not for bashing people's head in," because very few people, if any, will ever buy one with that primary thought in mind. Apparently, this "incense" needs such a label because a lot of people seem to think it is for human consumption.

I'm not going to put up with accusations that Lang or his businesses have been treated unfairly.

The Internet is awash with information about products such as these being used for human consumption.

These substances are legal. It's his right to sell them. There is nothing in the story that unfairly implicates him in doing anything other than what he is legally allowed to do. I don't understand why he would be ashamed of having the community know he sells these items. He's doing what he's legally allowed to do and as a matter of capitalism free to do. If an adult wants to go into his business and buy these substances, it's not really any of my business.

But is is important that the community be aware that these substances are out there, are being used by friends, relatives, children, coworkers and employees, and then make up their own minds as to how they want to respond to it in their own personal lives.

Jan 12, 2012, 10:04pm Permalink
Brenda Ranney

Yes, your correct it did.
It was also a different time & culture in this country. I'm sure we as a community would love to have the crime stats of 1933.

Jan 12, 2012, 11:18pm Permalink
Chris Vallett

Personally, i think its silly. I understand it is dangerous and so many "new" things coming out these days. We will never be able to keep up with. The fact that it is very well known according to facebook that glass roots and laughing buddha have personal or business problems i think is a big coincidence that those are the two people mentioned in the article.

Jan 14, 2012, 11:12pm Permalink
Howard B. Owens

It wasn't known to me, Chris.

I first spoke with Jeremy about his unwillingness to sell synthetic marijuana months and months ago, before Buddha even opened.

This story began with a volunteer firefighter contacting me. I then interviewed Steve Mullen and talked to several people in law enforcement. When the original source for the story failed to show up for his schedule interview and didn't respond to my e-mail, I thought -- how do I still get at this story? Then I remembered my previous conversation with Jeremy.

I'd also heard that Laughing Buddha sold this so-called "incense."

Primarily, I wanted a picture of the product, so I went to Buddha and somebody called Jay, who wasn't there, so I could talk with him and ask for permission to take a picture. He said no and said, "I'm sure you can understand." And I thought, "no, not really, but whatever," and then he gave me the quote I used.

The fact that I have to defend this story from insinuations that it is somehow unfair or misleading is beyond ridiculous. I do so because I'm not going to let anybody get away with saying the Laughing Buddha was treated unfairly. Jay is the one who decided to stock this product in his store, and in a pretty massive quantity, from what I saw, and at one time -- by his own admission -- to offer delivery through his cab company, so it becomes highly relevant in context to a story of high public interest. It's also important to note, Laughing Buddha is only a small part of the overall story, mentioned more than 2/3rds of the way into it. It's hardly the subject of the story, so it's kind of telling that there's all this sturm und drang here and on FB about Buddha's role in the story. It's way out of proportion to reality.

Jan 15, 2012, 11:30am Permalink
Kyle Couchman

LOL Howard you might have confused the participants in this discussion with "Sturm und drang" they might take your usage to be abfällig.

If he does understand it then just tell him "Sie sind besonder... nur wie jecter sonst"

Jan 15, 2012, 12:40pm Permalink

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