“Today, we launch an aggressive assault on a public health crisis that is reaching epidemic proportions: the scourge of dangerous new drugs that are killing people and sending thousands upon thousands to emergency rooms in New York City and around the country,” said Manhattan U.S. Attorney Preet Bharar in a statement announcing the Sept. 16 raids.
Synthetic marijuana often originates from drug factories in China, according to the Department of Justice. Manufacturers then spray the drug on tea leaves and package it for sale. A gram of synthetic cannabis costs about $5, while a gram of non-synthetic marijuana costs about $20.
“I smoke it because it’s cheaper than real pot,” said Favian Martierra, 40, a homeless man in New York City. “I’d rather smoke marijuana. It’s natural and comes from the earth.”
The federal raids have reduced the availability of synthetic marijuana across the city. Users of the drug say they feel painful withdrawal when they don’t smoke, and become agitated and prone to violence.
“There were five or six fights down under the tracks [over 125th Street in East Harlem] this morning,” said Jason Foster, 36, a homeless man who says he began smoking the synthetic drug about two years ago, when he was on parole and being tested for drug use.
“I feel nauseous when I don’t smoke, for about four or five days,” he said, as he drew acrid smoke from the blunt.
Convenience store clerks, the recent targets of federal busts, cast doubt on the city’s ability to stamp out synthetic pot use. The city’s Bodega Association has encouraged its members not to sell the drug, and said stores that do should be shut down, according to a local CBS News report.
Sami Mohammed, who works at an East Harlem convenience store recently raided by the DEA, said his store stopped selling the drug three months ago, when city officials instructed the owner to do so. But he has doubts the efficacy of any law that targets the synthetic drug.
“I don’t know how you can stop people using it, period,” he said.