The sale of synthetic marijuana is officially banned and will be met with stiffer penalties in New York City come December.
Mayor Bill de Blasio signed off on a trio of new laws passed by the City Council weeks ago to curb access to the drug, also known as K2, that has already sent more than 4,500 men and women to emergency rooms across the city.
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The drug has hit East Harlem particularly hard, de Blasio told reporters from the neighborhood's 25th Precinct station house on Tuesday. The drug has been at the epicenter of an ongoing debate in the area of 125th Street on how City Hall treats homeless and substance abusers who began to camp out nearby.
The mayor said the laws he signed are not targeting those who may be abusing the substance but rather the people who are profiting off of its use.
"We understand that some of the people who use this drug are amongst the most vulnerable in our city, and often include those who are dealing with mental health issues already," de Blasio said. "So the law doesn't focus on attacking the victim. It focuses on criminalizing the process that brings this poison into people's hands."
The new laws are stronger than existing bans on the drug from the state, which currently rely on the state Health Department to keep up with constantly changing lists of ingredients K2 manufactures modify to stay ahead of the law.
Effective within 60 days, the new laws say anybody found across the five boroughs selling K2 can be charged with a misdemeanor and face up to a year in prison and a $5,000 fine, as well as up to $50,000 in civil penalties.
Stores can also lose their licenses to sell cigarettes if caught selling the synthetic cannabis. Repeat offenders face complete closure of a business.
Police Commissioner Bill Bratton told reporters that raids of recent stores caught selling K2 have amounted to finding "minimal amounts of the drug" and that hospital admissions are down 21 percent since an all-time high in July.
"We've been very good at stopping what could have been a tidal wave," Bratton said.
Moments before de Blasio signed the legislation, New York state announced the release of its own educational campaign to stem the use and sale of K2. Two public service announcements use young actors to warn users of the potential dangers of the drug.
The city has its own educational campaign planned, though officials have cautioned against targeting those ads towards young people given that the city reports the median age of users is 37 years old and are mostly residents of shelters and individuals with a psychiatric illness.