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synthetic marijuana

July 26, 2012 - 3:52pm

Yesterday our story on the raid at The 420 Emporium contained information from an affidavit we obtained that had been filed in support of a search warrant request.

It turns out, that affidavit came out of the Northern District of the U.S. Attorney's Office. Today, we obtained a copy of the affidavit from the Western District, which includes Batavia, Brockport and Rochester.

Below is some of the information that is specific to the WNY affidavit, presented in the order it appears in the affidavit, omitting information covered in the previous affidavit and concentrating on items relevant to Batavia:

  • Product obtained at the stores allegedly contained controlled substance analogs known as alpha-PVP, Pentedrone, MPPP, UR-144, and AM2201.
  • The first undercover purchase was May 10 at the Brockport store. The agent inquired about "Snowblind" and "Rave." The agent paid $60 for the products and left. Tests showed the products allegedly contained Pentedrone.
  • On July 19, an undercover agent again entered the Brockport store and noticed packages of synthetic marijuana were no longer available. The agent inquired about a product called "Da Bomb." A clerk reportedly said the store did not carry the product anymore because it had been outlawed. A second clerk said the problem was the packages didn't contain a surgeon general warning and the first clerk allegedly said that somebody would "repackage that shit in like a month or two and send it back out, you know that," and the second clerk added, "You know it's going to be the same companies, different name."
  • The first alleged controlled purchase by agents in Batavia was July 2. Two undercover agents entered. The first agent inquired about Amped, Pump-It and Spice. A store clerk allegedly said the Batavia location was out of Pump-It but the Rochester store might have it. UC-1 asked if a different synethetic cannabinoid had the same watermelon flavor as "Mr. Happy." The clerk allegedly said that was like "comparing apples to oranges." The UC asked for a recommendation and the clerk said she could not recommend anything, saying "people like what they like." The agent reportedly recognized face-down packages of Amped on the counter, so asked if there was any Amped available. The agent purchased one package of Amped for $65.
  • The second agent requested a synthetic cannabinoid known as "Purple Haze." The agent said one of the product made his girlfriend's stomach sick and asked what product might make someone's stomach sick. The clerk said she didn't know and added that the product was not supposed to be used for human consumption. The clerk then sold the agent a package of "Purple Haze" for $21.60. The affidavit notes that agents made it abundantly clear they intended to use products for human consumption and the female clerk was reluctant to talk about it.
  • On July 16, two undercover agents entered the Batavia store. The first agent asked for a packet of Snowman and the clerk said the store was out of it. "The clerk further stated the brands Rave and Snowman tested positive in 'field test,' " the affidavit says. "When asked if they had anything like it the clerk said he could not lead the agent in any one direction, but then, in a not-so-subtle fashion, displayed an empty packet of Amped." The agent said he had taken "Amped" before and tried to purchase one package for $54. When the agent couldn't produce ID, the other agent allegedly made the purchase.
  • The second agent then inquired about G-13. The clerk said the product was illegal. The agent asked if any was still in stock and the clerk allegedly responded that they had "Da Bomb" and "WOW" in stock. The first agent then said, "we need papers." The clerk said he could not sell the product and papers in the same purchase "because I have to assume it is going to be consumed," allegedly adding, but "you can go outside and come back." Agent one allegedly made the synthetic cannabinoid purchase, left the store while the second agent waited, returned 10 seconds later and bought papers. 
  • During the July 16 undercover buy, the clerk advised the agents 420 Emporium had been in the news recently about bath salts. The clerk allegedly explained that he would only get into trouble if he sold bath salts for human consumption.
  • The Amped was not being kept in plain view, the agent notes in the affidavit. A sign read, "All products are intended for their legal purposes only. Any mention of illegal activity will not be tolerated. Thank you."
  • During an alleged buy in Rochester, a clerk reportedly told an agent that there were 16 remote cameras in the store that were monitored by the owner from his home.
  • The affidavit notes that the Batavia store had been subject of multiple police reports from concerned citizens and community activists. The report makes note of, but not by name, the arrest of Nicole Lang for alleged trespassing. The incident spawned increased media attention on the store and led to a protest at the location, the affidavit notes.
  • Michelle Condidorio, Joshua Denise and Austin Szczur are all named in the affidavit as suspects for arrest.
July 17, 2012 - 5:22pm
posted by Howard B. Owens in batavia, crime, synthetic drugs, synthetic marijuana, bath salts.

Press release:

Assemblyman Steve Hawley (R,I,C-Batavia) is fighting to keep dangerous synthetic drugs like bath salts out of local stores and off our streets. A recent wave of crime and menace has broken out in Batavia and across the Western New York region as more people have begun abusing the chemical compound marketed as a bathing product.

Hawley voted in favor of a law banning the compound most commonly found in the substance, and a federal ban was recently instituted barring the sale and possession of the drug. Manufacturers, however, have traditionally skirted attempts to outlaw the product by tweaking the chemical composition, which has produced grave risks to health and public safety.

As a result, Assemblyman Hawley is signing on to several pieces of legislation that will strengthen New York’s ability to eliminate all forms of this dangerous substance and end the terror plaguing local communities.

“Local stores are selling products that are tearing families apart and threatening the safety of our communities,” Hawley said. “The effects that bath salts and other synthetic drugs have had on our community are all too real, with many of us knowing friends, family members and neighbors who have either succumbed to the products or been hurt by someone who has.

"We must join together in awareness and vigilance of the threats that these drugs pose and do all we can to get these products out of local stores in order to protect the upstanding members of our local community.”

Hawley is also supporting multiple bills banning the sale and distribution of synthetic cannabinoids, another harmful substance that is allowed to be sold in stores due to loopholes in state law.

These marijuana-like products are marketed as incense or potpourri and are legally sold in a variety of outlets. Dangerous side effects include hallucinations, vomiting, agitation, increased heart rate, elevated blood pressure and other complications.

Hawley voted in favor of an Assembly bill banning synthetic cannabinoids and is supporting further legislation to have a ban adopted into state law.

July 13, 2012 - 1:09pm

Eric Betz says he and a lot of his friends are pretty unhappy with what they're seeing in Batavia right now.

Betz wants to do something about it: raise awareness of the dangers of bath salts and send a message that not everybody who enjoys an alternative lifestyle approves of this behavior.

"We don't want people who enjoy their freedom of expression to be equated to these scumbags," Betz said.

He's working on organizing a community event sometime soon that he hopes will bring the community together to rally against bath salts.

He said a few local businesses, such as Bourbon & Burger, Foxprowl Collectables and CPR Computer, have signed on to support the event. Next he wants to talk to the City of Batavia to get permission to hold the event in Austin Park. 

He's also looking for a donation of a car that people can take a whack at with a sledge hammer as a "your brain on bath salts" message.

At $5 a hammer swing, Betz is hoping to raise money for GCASA or another substance abuse program.

Betz, manager and a tattoo artist for Affliction Ink, 440 Ellicott St., Batavia, said "almost every one of my clients is against this crap."

Affliction Ink is owned by Eric Weiss. Both Weiss and Betz are former employees of The Laughing Buddha (440 Ellicott is the Buddha's original location) who left their jobs there, Betz said, because they were concerned about Jason Lang allegedly selling synthetic marijuana. 

Now they're just down the street from 420 Emporium (located at 400 Ellicott St.), which Betz believes has sold bath salts, and he said if they were or are, it's bad for the neighborhood.

People sometimes confuse the two businesses, he said, and he wants to make the distinction clear. Affliction Ink has nothing to do with bath salts, he said, though some people still come into the store looking to buy packages of the narcotic.

"It's getting out of hand," Betz said. "We see people walk by every day high on this stuff. It's disgusting."

One of the big dangers of bath salts, Betz said, is that it makes people paranoid and they might act irrationally, making them a danger not just to themselves but anybody in the community.

"We want to raise awareness about it," Betz said. "I'm tired of hearing people saying they want to leave Batavia because of it. This is my home. I love it here."

Rich Clark of CPR Computers has set up a Facebook page for the planned event, "Let's Beat Bath Salts."

UPDATE: The event is scheduled for 11 a.m. to 4 p.m., July 28, at L&L Transmission, 8781 Alexander Road, Batavia.  Additional businesses supporting the event: Neptunes Gardens Pet Shop, Rochester Metal Booking, B-Town Yellow Taxi, My T-Shirts Etc.  Also, I'm told I got Eric's profession wrong. He does piercings for Affliction Ink.

July 11, 2012 - 10:27pm
posted by Howard B. Owens in batavia, crime, synthetic drugs, synthetic marijuana, bath salts.

Nearly every day of late, emergency dispatchers in Genesee County field multiple calls related to people getting into trouble or causing problems while apparently high on a substance benignly called "bath salts."

Area law enforcement officials recognize the problem, and even though most of the compounds known as bath salts are now a Schedule 1 Controlled Substance under federal law, the tools available to police officers to deal with these sometimes bizarre events are limited.

In the City of Batavia, Police Chief Shawn Heubusch said the approach his department is taking to deal with bath salt-provoked incidents is first a public safety issue.

"First and foremost, any responding officer is checking the welfare of people," Heubusch said. "First comes public safety, the safety of the people involved, checking to see if medical attention is needed, giving it to them."

If a crime has been committed, an individual under the influence of bath salts might be arrested, Heubusch said, but the first order of business is that person's health and safety.

However, since at a local level, the possession and even the sale of these so-called bath salts are legal, there isn't much local law enforcement can do to combat the spread of the drug.

But that doesn't mean any Genesee County residents or businesses that might sell bath salts should feel comfortable distributing the compounds outlawed as a result of legislation sponsored by Sen. Chuck Schumer.

The federal government's top law enforcement official in Western New York said today that investigators will respond to any complaints of the substances being sold locally, whether the complaints come in the form of tips from concerned citizens or media reports suggesting such sales are taking place.

"What the public can expect as with any reports of criminal activities is that law enforcement will look into it as appropriate," said William Hochul, U.S. Attorney for Western New York. "I can’t comment on specific cases, but the way we do our job in law enforcement is we look for possible violations of crime and we investigate it. If it rises to the level of a federal offense, we will prosecute."

Hochul praised The Batavian and Rochester's WHAM 13 for aggressive reporting on the bath salt issue during an exclusive interview with the two news outlets at the Sheriff's Office in Batavia.

"The public needs to be aware that the side effects of these substances is that to an extent they can be deadly," Hochul said. "We've had any number of episodes where people have acted violently, or they've gone into cardiac arrest, and that's just what we know. There's a long-term effect that still remains to be seen. So, the best defense, as with most drugs, is for the public to get educated."

Schumer's legislation bans MDPV (methylenedioxypyrovalerone) and mephedrone, the active ingredients in bath salts.

Reportedly, the chemicals found in bath salts cause effects similar to those of cocaine and methamphetamine, including hallucinations, paranoia and suicidal thoughts.

In Batavia in recent cases, people have climbed on rooftops, waved knives at people in a threatening manner, claimed to be attacked by ghosts, reported hearing gunshots and have been combative toward medical personnel during emergency responses to deal with their seizures.

Family members of individuals reportedly on bath salts have said that users  expressed suicidal thoughts and engaged in self-destructive behavior.

The paranoia, violence and self-destructive thoughts of people on bath salts are a safety concern for the public and emergency personnel, local law enforcement officials say.

"People using these substances are sometimes unpredictable and sometimes become violent," Heubusch said. "The officers do a great job of limiting contact with these people and ensuring everybody is safe."

Sheriff Gary Maha said fortunately, no situations involving his deputies have gotten out of hand, but officers have been responding to numerous medical calls involving bizarre behavior.

"Our officers are trained to protect themselves," Maha said. "It doesn’t matter what type of situation. It can be a dangerous situation. This person could have a knife he’s swinging around or whatever and they will have to take appropriate action to protect themselves and protect the public.

"We haven’t come across a situation yet where an officer needs to use a Taser, but our officers are armed with Tasers and trained in using them," Maha added.

Det. Rich Schauf said that with all the information available now about bath salts, and the fact that it says right on many packages, "not for human consumption," the real question is, why are people using them.

"The unfathomable situation in all this is why would somebody do this to themselves," Schauff said.  Why would somebody ingest something that they don’t know what it is. ... that's the real question: How do you stop somebody from hurting themselves?"

While that may be a question without an answer, Hochul's office is taking seriously the issue of enforcing the new ban on bath salts and synthetic marijuana, he said.

"We will now be able to treat bath salts the same way we treat cocaine and heroine," Hochul said. "(We can) use all of our federal techniques that we have available, including wiretaps, undercover operations, and hopefully bring these cases to closure much easier and much more successfully."

Up until the new ban was signed into law by President Barack Obama, federal law enforcement had very limited tools to combat bath salts and synthetic marijuana.

The chemicals used to manufacture these drugs were part of a DEA emergency schedule as controlled substances, but that only meant that law enforcement had to prove in a court of law that a person selling the substance did so with the intention they would be used for human consumption and that the effect of the substances was in fact similar to that of meth or cocaine.

That all changed on Monday.

"It’s much better for the community to know now that the substances are -- no ifs, ands or buts -- illegal to possess, to sell or posses with intent to sell," Hochul said.

While law enforcement officials take seriously the apparent increase in bath salt-related calls, they also say it shouldn't be overstated as some sort of community epidemic.

The majority of calls, according to Schauf, involve the same people repeatedly, and those calls are generally confined to people who have had law enforcement contact prior to bath salts becoming an issue.

Heubusch agreed.

"I don’t believe this is a widespread, mass hysteria type of event," Heubusch said. "It does seem to be a small group of people."

The other factor that may contribute to bath salts being part of a greater consciousness in Batavia, Schauf said, is more people understand what bath salts are and what they do, including cops and medical personnel.

"We might have been dealing with this before and we didn't know it," Schauf said. "Now that it's identified, you have this effect of everything is bath salts the minute you see somebody who is irrational."

All of the law enforcement officials we talked to today also said bath salts are just the latest fad drug. They pointed to either Ecstasy, PCP, sniffing glue, meth and even LSD as "fad" drugs of the past that eventually stopped being a common problem.

"We've seen different peaks and valleys in the past," Maha said. "We've seen LSD and we don't see that much anymore, or PCP, and we don't see that much anymore. They have all come and gone and hopefully this will as well."

What worries law enforcement officials that while federal -- and even possibly, someday, state legislation -- might outlaw bath salts as we know them today, there are probably chemists somewhere trying to cook up the next intoxicating brew.

"We have to be concerned about it," Hochul said. "I read one report that said this (the new law) is like raising the wall a little higher as the floodwaters grow. We certainly hope at a certain point that there won't continue to be creation of illegal substances, but given the advances in science and the willingness of people located throughout the world to try and make money through the selling of illegal drugs, it’s reasonable to assume there will be continued efforts to avert this law."

Hochul had two other bits of advice for community members who are concerned about bath salts.

First, if people plan to picket -- as Jason Lang's mother suggested doing -- an establishment suspected of selling bath salts, they shouldn't worry that such action would interfer with a federal investigation.

"If you’re a mother or a parent with concerns, you still have to do what you have to do to protect your family within the bounds of the law," Hochul said.

"We have an obligation to investigate violations of the federal law using all of our tools and there are ample tools to investigate the fact that somebody may be illegally selling drugs," Hochul added. "If somebody is protesting on the one hand, they should not be worried that would impede our ability to use one of our other tools to investigate violations of federal law."

The second bit of advice was directed at any landlords who might be leasing property to a business that could be selling bath salts.

The property can be seized under the federal forfeiture law.

If a judge determines the property owner knew a business was selling a controlled substance -- and media reports indicating such transactions were allegedly taking place -- a judge could rule the property owner should have taken action to ensure such sales were not being conducted on his property.

"If the landlord wants to keep his property, the landlord's obligation should be to make sure there’s no illegal activity occurring on his property," Hochul said. "That’s another advantage of having very assertive media in exposing this to the public at large. What did the particular owner know and when did he know it?"

Heubusch and Hochul also said the entire community has a role to play in combating bath salts in Batavia.

Community members, they said, need to call the police about suspicious activity, cooperate in investigations and educate each other about the dangers of these chemicals and compounds.

"This is a perfect opportunity for the community to come together and help others out," Heubusch said. "Whether they call us, they call 9-1-1 to report a suspicious event, or when the officer does arrive, report what they saw to that officer. ... We will do what we can to protect this community, but we do need help from the community itself."

PHOTOS: Top, Chief Shawn Heubusch; first inset, U.S. Attorney for WNY William Hochul; second inset, Sheriff Gary Maha.

This story was produced in conjunction and cooperation with The Batavian's official news partner, WBTA, and Sean Carroll, reporter for WHAM 13 in Rochester.

Related stories:

July 9, 2012 - 6:41pm
posted by Howard B. Owens in batavia, crime, synthetic drugs, synthetic marijuana, bath salts.

A 24-year-old Batavia resident who allegedly gave bath salts to a minor did so, she reportedly told a DSS caseworker, because she thought the chemical was legal, "therefore it was OK."

Ashley R. Keene, of 244 Liberty St., Batavia, is charged with endangering the welfare of a child.

Her alleged admission to giving bath salts to a 14-year-old girl are contained in court documents on file with Batavia City Court.

According to a DSS worker who made a statement in support of Keene's arrest, Keene said she didn't understand on May 28, Memorial Day, that giving a child bath salts was illegal.

Keene is the girlfriend of Jason D. Lang, 28, of 244 Liberty St., Batavia, who is currently being held in Genesee County Jail. He is accused of falsely reporting an incident for allegedly calling 9-1-1 to report gunshots at a local hotel July 2.

In court documents, a Batavia PD officer reports that in a jailhouse interview, Lang denied participating in giving the girl bath salts and says he warned Keene against it, but admits, according to the officer, of "having a problem with bath salts."

Lang has reportedly been involved in other bizarre calls to the emergency dispatchers, placing multiple calls to 9-1-1 one morning in late June and either he or Keene reported a toxic chemical odor at 244 Liberty St. in June that city fire later declared unfounded.

Lang is the former owner of The Laughing Buddha, 238 Ellicott St., Batavia, which was a head shop and tattoo parlor. The shop has been closed for a few weeks and is reportedly out of business.

In late May, Lang was arrested by State Police for allegedly calling the property owner of 400 Ellicott St. and telling the landlord that he was a "State Police detective." Lang was allegedly warning the landlord not to rent to 420 Emporium because, according to Lang, the business sold bath salts.

According to court documents, on May 28, the 14-year-old girl was given permission to go with Lang and Keene to a rib festival in Rochester. She was reportedly going along as a babysitter for Lang and Keene's daughter.

At about 5 p.m., her parents gave her permission to go home with them. On the way back to Batavia, Lang drove to Warsaw and stopped at a 420 Emporium location there.

The girl reportedly told officers that Lang gave Keene $100 to buy two packages of "Amp" (aka Amped).

When Keene came out of the store, according to the girl, she gave one package of the compound to Lang and kept one for herself. Lang, the girl said, got in the back seat and Keene got behind the wheel. Before driving away, according to the statement, Keene snorted a half line of the bath salt.

Jason slept in the back seat during the drive home, the girl said.

Upon arriving at 244 Liberty, according to the girl's statement, she got permission to stay with Lang and Keene overnight.

In the statement, the girl is reported to have said that Keene was going to do her hair and makeup for her last day of school.

Once home, the girl reported that Lang and Keene argued about "cheating and lying."

Then they decided to go to McDonald's and Tops for food.

When the group returned to 244 Liberty, Keene allegedly asked the girl, "do you want to do caffeine powder with me?"

The girl said she had never snorted anything before, according to the statement, and Keene allegedly showed her how to snort the powder.

At 10:30 p.m., Lang reportedly said he was hot and wanted to go for a walk. The girl also said they were going to look for Lang's dog, which had apparently run off.

When the got home, the girl took a swig from a Sprite bottle, according to the statement, that she later learned contained some "Amped" mixed in the bottle.

The girl said she started feeling hot. Keene, she said, got a bag of peas from the freezer and put them on her forehead. Lang asked her if she needed to take a shower. She declined the shower.

The group stayed up all night watching TV, the girl reportedly said. She said she couldn't sleep.

At 5 a.m., she started getting ready for school. 

She took a shower and Keene stayed in the bathroom during the entire shower, the girl said.

When she got out of the shower she said she noticed scratches on both of her forearms but didn't know how they got there.

Keene did the girl's hair and makeup.

When she got to school, she said, she wasn't feeling well. At about lunchtime, she started throwing up.

Her mother came and took her home.

According to the report, the girl didn't eat for two days.

Lang has previously denied selling bath salts at The Laughing Buddha, but has admitted to selling what is commonly accepted as synthetic marijuana, which Lang called incense and potpourri (previous coverage here). Just before his store closed, Lang said he had found a new kind of synthetic marijuana that was all organic and wasn't covered by a recent statewide ban on most substances known as synthetic marijuana.

After the jump (click on the headline) a press release from Sen. Charles Schumer on President Obama signing legislation making it illegal to sell (as a federal crime) many of the chemicals used in bath salts and synthetic marijuana.

May 25, 2012 - 3:08pm
posted by Howard B. Owens in batavia, business, synthetic drugs, synthetic marijuana.

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.

April 4, 2012 - 10:49pm

A day after The Laughing Buddha announced that it was willing to cooperate with officials, owner Jay Lang was served a notice from New York State Health Department, banning him from selling potpourri over the counter. 

Lang said Tuesday he had voluntarily removed his products from the shelf days earlier, but now he's not permitted to restock them, according to the notice. 

"The health department stopped in this morning and told us we couldn't sell our products anymore," Lang said. "They were very polite and we cooperated fully. We gave them samples of our products that they will be testing for the banned cannabinoids.

"I also spoke to Det. Crossett (Batavia PD) this morning and he informed me that this is a civil matter and not a criminal matter," Lang added.

If he were to restock, the state could fine him up to $1,000. 

Local health department officials confirmed that Lang gave them samples and that tests would be done, but could not tell us exactly what was being done or being tested for, since it was being handled at the state level and not county level.

Products that are being tested include the potpourri that sells under the name White Rhino, Hammer Head and Yum Yum. 

"If the tests come back in my favor, I can restock the shelves," Lang said. "If they come back against me, they will let me know what compounds need to be changed to make the products legal." 

Lang has fifteen days to present proof that his products do not constitute a danger to the health of the people of the State of New York.

Since The Batavian first started following the story, numerous news stations have also picked up on this local story. 

Previous coverage: 

Photo by Howard Owens

April 3, 2012 - 3:43pm

Last week the New York State Health Commissioner issued an order prohibiting products that fall under the umbrella heading of “synthetic cannabinoids” from being sold in the state. These are items sold as “incense” and not for human consumption yet are often smoked as a substitute for marijuana.

Jay Lang, owner of The Laughing Buddha in Batavia, and his attorney say they believe the ban violates two forms of retailers' constitutional rights, one of which falls under the category of interstate trading. 

"After the ban, health department officials stopped by 'The Buddha' but we had already pulled our products that were questionable," Lang said. "I called my attorney and the legal team of the distributors, we all believe that the ban violates the individual rights and the rights of the distributors."

Lang, who recently moved his shop to 238 Ellicott St., claims he did not sell any of the banned items but voluntarily pulled any questionable items from his shelf last Thursday after hearing of the new mandate.

"I don't sell 'Spice' or bath salts," Lang said. "I never have. I sell potpourri. It's the same thing as if you go to your arts and crafts stores or your Big Box retailers. It's just that tattoo and head shops have been put under a microscope."

The items on the state's banned list include K2, Spice, Galaxy Gold, and Mr. Happy.

According to Lang, "Spice" was the trade name given to K2, that was banned more than a year ago. Since then, the distributors have made changes to their products in an attempt to legalize them again, he said.

Although some of the products have regained legal status, they still carry the label "Spice." He said that "Spice" is currently being used as the slang name given to the damiana leaf after it's been sprayed with synthetic cannabinoids. It only gets the "Spice" classification once it is sprayed.

"None of the products that I sell have been sprayed with any form of cannabinoids, which is why these products are still legal to be sold," Lang said.
"My attorney and the distributor's legal team have advised me to put my products back on the shelf, although for the time being, I am keeping them off (the shelf)."

Lang, who said he has NYS certified lab reports that classify his products as potpourri, has also put together a package to work with the health department and law enforcement regarding the products in question.

"I'm inviting the health department and law enforcement to inspect my questionable products," he said. "I have sample kits that I put together for them and I will even pay to have my products tested to prove that they do not contain any of the banned cannabinoids and that all they are is potpourri."

If law enforcement and the health department do not express interest in the testing and validating his products as legal potpourri, Lang plans to restock his shelves with the products.

March 30, 2012 - 12:25pm
posted by Howard B. Owens in synthetic drugs, synthetic marijuana.

County health officials are visiting some local retail stores today to see if they are selling so-called synthetic marijuana, and if they are, notifying the owners that the substances are now banned in New York.

Earlier this week, the NYS health commissioner issued an order prohibiting products that fall under the umbrella heading of “synthetic cannabinoids” — products that are sold as “incense” and not for human consumption but are often smoked as a substitute for pot -- from being sold in the state.

There have been numerous reports throughout the state of health-related issues arising from use of these products.

The ban does not make sale or possession a criminal violation, but merchants can be fined by the state for the sale of products covered by the ban, even if they claim they’re not selling them for human consumption.

David Whitcroft, interim public health director, said if environmental health inspectors find a local business selling a banned substance — which includes from a previous state ban synthetic meth, known as bath salts — the owner will be served with the commissioner's order, given an affidavit of service and the merchant will be required to cease selling the products or face the possibility of fines.

If actual enforcement of the ban is necessary, it will be handled by state health officials, not the county department, Whitcroft said.

Any merchant served with an order has 15 days to challenge it and present proof that the products being sold are not a public health danger.

The state provided county health departments with a list of suggested retail outlets to check for sale of synthetic marijuana, including convenience stores, gas stations, "head shops" and tattoo parlors.

The department also welcomes tips from local residents about the sale and distribution in the county of synthetic marijuana and bath salts by calling 344-2580, ext. 5001.

Whitcroft said health inspectors will visit every possible location in the county where such products might be sold, except on the Tonawanda Indian Reservation, which is under federal jurisdiction on this matter.

Four shops on the reservation were raided by local and federal law enforcement Feb. 23 and products such as K2 and Spice were reportedly seized, but no arrests have been announced by federal authorities.

There is legislation pending that would make the banned products illegal to sell or possess in New York.

Previously:

January 19, 2012 - 10:00pm
posted by Howard B. Owens in synthetic drugs, synthetic marijuana.

Substance abuse professionals and those who deal with drug addicts in law enforcement have a new wrinkle to contend with -- so-called incense products such as synthetic marijuana and bath salts.

At GCASA, Genesee Justice and county probation (Hope Haven's director refused an interview request for this story), professionals say the fairly new substances make their jobs harder.

Products such as K2 and Spice, on the fake marijuana side, and "bath salts" with names such as Ivory Wave, Bliss and White Lightning, which are designed to mimic cocaine or methamphetamine, are readily available online and at a few retail outlets in Genesee County.

The ease with which an addict can obtain a product is one complication, but an added difficulty is that the chemistry of drug screening hasn't yet caught up with the new substances.

Typically, a drug screen contains seven to nine test panels and people in treatment can be covered by insurance.

Screens for incense products cost from $35 to $115 per test and are not covered by insurance.

"What you run into is that drug companies and agencies doing the drug testing haven't caught up with a substance that's fairly new," said John Walker, director of clinical services for GCASA. "When there is something new, it takes a while for the labs to catch up."

Walker thinks that eventually, even these newer designer drugs will be included in a normal toxicology scan.

That doesn't mean substance abuse professionals are completely clueless about who might be using these substances.

There are still signs to look for, from the glassy eyes to paranoia and aggitation.

When a counselor suspects a patient is using incense, the councilor can request a screen for the substances, and that does happen, Walker said.

For probation officers, there is an additional clue, said Director Julie Smith. Sometimes a probation officer will just walk into the residence of a person on probation and see a package of K2 sitting on a table.

That could lead probation to refer the person to a substance abuse program, or get the terms of the probation amended to specifically prohibit the use of incense products.

"We're definately coming across it, especially during searches," Smith said.

The substances can also present a danger to probation officers, Smith said, especially bath salts, which are known to make users more agitated and difficult to control. Officers don't always know what they're walking into when they check in on a client.

However, if a person is on probation with no prior history of drug use, then there isn't much the probation officer can do about that person smoking, say, K2.

The substance is legal and the terms of probation must fit the crime.

Amee Weierheiser, a case worker for Genesee Justice, said the rise of substances such as K2 is troublesome, but so far, only three defendants in a Genesee Justice program have admitted to K2 use. She said they were high school and college students who admitted to using the product.

If a client doesn't admit to use, then case workers must fall back on observation to determine if a person is using an incense product.

"It’s a huge concern," Weierheiser said. "These kids think it’s a legal way to get high, but it causes all kinds of problems."

Weierheiser said she would like to see the county institute a training program for professionals who deal with defendants and abusers to help them better detect and identify incense product users.

Smith shared Weierheiser's concern that people who consume incense products just aren't really aware of what they're getting into.

"It’s synthetic and it’s dangerous," Smith said. "It says right on the package 'not for human consumption.' People young and old need to realize what this is doing to them. It can certainly cause harm to them."

Walker said that while people tend to want to try out new things, the rise of synthetic marijuana and bath salts is a concern.

"People don’t really know what they’re doing, whch makes it kind of scary, but the popularity is increasing," Walker said.

Previously:

January 11, 2012 - 6:24pm
posted by Howard B. Owens in batavia, drugs, synthetic drugs, synthetic marijuana.

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.

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