New Jersey Police Enforcing Ban on Synthetic Marijuana

New Jersey has joined the growing ranks of states taking aggressive action against sellers of synthetic marijuana. A new state law enacts a comprehensive ban of the drug, targeting all possible chemical combinations designed to mimic the effects of natural marijuana.

The state drug law follows the earlier, more limited adoption of a temporary ban and pending federal legislation on several categories of synthetic marijuana, which allowed manufacturers and dealers to create new products or simply market existing synthetic marijuana products differently to get around the ban. The new law bans all selling, distribution, and possession of synthetic marijuana.

Abuse of the drug can cause dangerous side effects including seizures, hallucinations, and panic attacks. According to a 2011 study, it is the third most popular drug abused by high school students. Federal authorities and now New Jersey have added the drug to Schedule I list of illegal narcotics that also includes cocaine and heroin.

Synthetic marijuana generally consists of herbs and plant materials topped with powerful chemicals chosen to simulate the high produced by THC (tetrahydrocannabinol), the active chemical in natural marijuana. It may or may not appear similar to natural marijuana and is marketed under numerous names, including Spice, Black Mamba, Kush, K2, K3, Down to Earth, Comatose Candy and the general heading of "incense" or "potpourri." It is generally sold more or less openly for $30 or $40 at convenience stores, head shops and smoke shops, and novelty business stores.

Prior efforts to ban synthetic marijuana led some manufacturers and dealers to change marketing names, alter the drug cocktail, and attach labels claiming the drug isn't covered by any federal or state laws. This makes it difficult for some retailers to know whether the products on their shelves are legal.

Before the New Jersey law went into effect on March 10, police initiated a 10-day grace period for sellers to take any products "suspected to contain these illegal toxic chemicals" off their shelves and hand them over to the police. Police went door-to-door in several states, warning owners and employees of the ban and providing an informational handout. Attorney General Chiesa warned that anyone who failed to surrender synthetic marijuana products would face criminal charges when the grace period expired.

Police have acted on the threat, issuing search warrants and arresting owners and employees of tobacco stores, food markets and other stores in Gloucester, Mercer, Middlesex, Union and other counties for possession and distribution of the drug. In some cases, undercover agents were sent to attempt purchases. In each case, police seized the alleged synthetic marijuana. If found guilty, violators of the law face criminal charges that could result in serious fines and prison terms.

Persons facing charges involving synthetic marijuana in New Jersey should speak with an experienced criminal defense attorney.