Boston’s City Council has a message for those looking to sell synthetic marijuana: Don’t do it.
That was the clear sentiment from councilors Wednesday as they considered a proposal to fine buyers or sellers of the designer drug $300 each day it continues to be sold. Although a vote isn’t likely until next week, councilors left scant doubt that they back Councilor Frank Baker’s plan.
Law enforcement and public health officials, social workers, residents, and clergy spoke in support Wednesday of the proposal they say would help address what authorities have described as a growing concern.
The popular drug, introduced in the United States about seven years ago, is also known as K2, spice, crazy monkey, and Scooby snacks. It causes people to hallucinate, vomit, become agitated, experience psychotic episodes, and in some cases results in death.
“We see a lot of people every day who are under the influence of K2,” said Police Captain Kenneth Fong, commander of police District A1, which covers downtown and Charlestown. “We’ve seen some extreme cases of violence. [And] everything from blocking traffic to hallucinations, slurring, twitching [and] expressing nudity. We totally agree this is a product that should be banned in the city.”
Fong said the drug has affected the quality of life for residents and is not something tourists and children should have to see.
The designer drug, which is legal, does not actually contain marijuana but is made up of a variety of plants sprayed with chemicals, according to Boston police and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. It is often marketed as incense or potpourri.
Synthetic marijuana has also been a problem for the city’s homeless shelters, where officials say the product is confiscated and people are found daily to be high on it.
“There’s no doubt our programs are being overwhelmed by this issue,” said Rita L. Nieves, bureau director for the Boston Public Health Commission’s Addictions, Prevention, Treatment, and Recovery Support Services. “We’ve had to manage mental health emergencies of people who have psychotic episodes or seizures. We’re very concerned about this issue.”
Residents told the City Council they have witnessed people thought to be high on the drug do unusual things. One downtown resident recalled seeing a man bang his head into a park bench and another talking to himself.
Boston EMS responded to 76 cases related to synthetic marijuana as of July 28, up from 19 for all of last year.
Lieutenant Detective Brian Larkin, commander of the Boston Police Department’s drug control unit, said the products are usually sold at gas stations, smoke shops, and convenience stores. He said there are a number of active investigations.
Councilor Michael F. Flaherty said some changes may be made to the proposal, including imposing a fine each time a merchant continues to sell the product, instead of a fine per day.
“Our hope is to put a little teeth in it and give law enforcement the tools they need,” Flaherty said.