They mimic the effects of illegal street drugs, but users don't risk arrest, and those who sell them only face a minimal fine in New York State. Wednesday night, local legislators in Clinton County voted to up penalties and create new ones.
Drugs like 'Spice' or 'Bath Salts' are designed to be near-identical chemical copies of the active ingredients in marijuana and methamphetamine. While legislators at all levels of government have banned known forms, chemists are constantly cooking new ones.
In a unanimous decision Wednesday night, New York's Clinton County legislators voted to create local penalties for possession of synthetic drugs that mimic everything from marijuana to meth, and stiffen penalties for their sale. The move comes more than a year after the state first acted and will be effective once the bill is filed in the state capitol: Albany.
"The reason we're moving forward with this is because the state has not," said District Attorney Andrew Wylie
Local officials say current penalties are doing little to deter sale or use, but now jail-time will be on the table. "I think will cause some of those individuals, most if not all, to stop selling," said Wylie.
Offenders could see up to one year for sale, and users three months for possession, but only the state can create punishments tougher than misdemeanor offenses.
Undercover law enforcement members successfully bought packets of banned synthetic substances at a local store prior to the meeting. Police and legislators say the drugs are posing major issues for hospitals and schools.
"Unfortunately, kids experiment with it," said county legislator Robert Butler during the meeting, "that changes and alters their entire lives and school, and families, and everybody that gets impacted by this - it's devastating to an entire county."
But, no one at Wednesday evening's meeting in Plattsburgh offered usage or related crime stats, just anecdotes.
Officials say part of the enforcement difficulty stems from the fact that just to issue a ticket, new substances must be sent to labs for testing, eating time and resources. They hope the new law will help them save both - as well as lives - but say the state may have to act to find a better solution.
A local smoke shop operator we spoke with says they have only received about two requests for the products in the last four months. They say demand hasn't dried up though, the customer simply moved online.
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