Recreational Marijuana

Synthetic marijuana products, such as Geeked Up, are sold as potpourri at area convenience stores, but officials say people are still using the drug, outlawed in New Jersey, to get high.
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Synthetic marijuana makes resurgence in Mercer County after N.J. ban

Sep 30, 2014

 

NJ.com - MERCER COUNTY -- Although synthetic marijuana has been outlawed in New Jersey, Mercer County has seen a recent resurgence of the products in the hands of teens and young adults, according to local officials.
 
Rob Fiorello, the acting director of the Mercer County Gang Task Force, said the problem has festered as stores continue to sell the synthetic marijuana under the pretense of potpourri and incense.
 
“If your kid suddenly becomes interested in incense, you really need to pay attention,” Fiorello, who also serves as juvenile intervention services coordinator at PEI Kids, a program that works with high-risk youth in the region.
 
Fiorello has worked with kids from Trenton and the surrounding area in his Juvenile Offenders Outreach Services program, a court mandated probation program for juveniles between the ages of 11 and 18, for many years.
 
“I noticed that my students were high but a different kind of high,” Fiorello said.
 
Fiorello soon learned that some of the students were smoking synthetic marijuana, known as K2 or spice.
 
The product made an emergence in 2002 and again in 2006, Fiorello said, but usage dropped off after the state regulations began covering the products in 2011. A law signed by Gov. Chris Christie last year banned possession, manufacturing and the sale of the synthetic marijuana.
 
In the past year, Fiorello said he has seen the drugs, and the effects of the drugs, more often.
 
Valerie McLaughlin, the medical director at St. Francis Medical Center’s emergency department, said she, too, has seen an uptick in the last year or so in individuals coming into the emergency room with the side effects of smoking synthetic marijuana.
 
“The symptoms that they complain of are usually kind of vague,” McLaughlin said. “A general uncomfortable feeling. Sometimes it is shortness of breath or chest tightness, dizziness.”
 
When asked why he thinks there has been a recent surge in the use of these products, Fiorello said, “It is 7 bucks and it is a high that beats a drug screening.”
 
Fiorello said the products can be found behind the counter at most places that sell tobacco like convenience stores or gas stations. They can also be purchased online.
 
The products are sold with names like “Geeked Up,” “Hipnotic,” “Mr Happy,” and “Scooby Snax.” The packaging is often cartoonish and when opened the product inside smells like candy.
 
On the back of the package, there is a warning that says “For fragrance purposes only. Not for human consumption.”
 
“It is never really smart to put things in your body that aren’t designed to be consumed and to be processed for that purpose,” McLaughlin said.
 
“Kids think they can buy it in a store and attribute that it is ok,” Fiorello said.
 
Representatives from the New Jersey-based North American Herbal Incense Trade Association did not respond to a message seeking comment. The NAHITA, whose website is keepitlegal.org, lobbied against the state’s ban of synthetic marijuana.
 
 
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