State increases penalties for synthetic drug crimes

The New York Department of Health issued new regulations Tuesday that stiffen penalties for the sale or possession of synthetic drugs.

Flanked by a prop sporting packets of synthetic drugs with names like “Snow Leopard,” “Zoom” and “Vanilla Sky,” Governor Andrew Cuomo deemed the substances “poison” during a Buffalo press conference.

“It is illegal to possess these substances. It is illegal for a clerk to sell. It is illegal for a store owner to own a store where this is sold. It is illegal to buy, it is illegal to possess. It is illegal to carry. It is against the law. And you can go to jail,” Governor Cuomo said.

The new regulations expand the existing list of prohibited drugs and the chemicals used to make them.

Cuomo says the state wants to close loopholes in current laws.

“What has happened in the past is that you stop one specific drug and then they go back to the lab and tweak it and come back with another drug and say, ‘this is a new drug,’” Cuomo said.

Possession or sale will net an offender a $500 fine and up to 15 days in jail. The punishments are relatively soft compared to those of other illegal substances, like marijuana, cocaine or heroin.

Cuomo calls the new rules a “first step” and admits that even harsher penalties may be needed down the road.

“We’ll see. Jail is jail, you know? And going to jail is never a good thing. We will how it goes. And if we need stiffer penalties as we go along, we will push for those,” Cuomo said.

Federal law currently bans the manufacture of synthetic drugs, but new state regulations give police the authority to pursue violators and refer them to local judicial system for prosecution.

Emergency rooms across the state are seeing and increasing number of cases of the drugs making people sick, according to Gregory Young, acting associate commissioner and medical director for the Western New York and Finger Lakes division of the New York DOH.

“These substances produce dangerous effects including hallucinations, paranoia, suicidal thoughts and actions, delusions, violent behavior, chest pain, increases in heart rate and blood pressure and even causes kidney failure and death,” Young said.

Children are often lured by the drugs, which try to appear harmless and fun in everyday stores, according to Young.

“Sellers use a variety of brand names such as White Lightning, Snow Leopard, Tranquility, Zoom, Ivory Wave, Red Dove, Vanilla Sky and others to help conceal the identity of these drugs and to appeal to buyers.”

Cuomo’s visit was his third to western New York in a week. His speech Tuesday only lasted five minutes.