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Lawmakers Calling For Tougher Penalties To Combat Sales Of Synthetic Marijuana

NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) -- Lawmakers in New York are calling for tougher penalties for people who are caught selling synthetic marijuana.

Alarmed by a growing number of emergency room visits, Gov. Andrew Cuomo last week imposed an emergency regulation banning the sale of synthetic marijuana, but Bronx Sen. Jeff Klein said it's not enough.

"Unfortunately, it is not doing the trick," he said. "We need a law on the books in Albany and we need a law right now."

Klein said in the Bronx alone, there have been nearly 700 emergency room visits in connection with the drug, also known as "K2" and "spice," reported since January.

Lawmakers Calling For Tougher Penalties To Combat Sales Of Synthetic Marijuana

"The Bronx is becoming the K2 capital of New York City," he said. "Synthetic marijuana is dangerous and poses a very real public health threat to New Yorkers, their families and children."

Bronx Assemblyman Mark Gjonaj called the sale and use of the drug "an epidemic in our state."

"These drugs are easily accessible and are being marketed to children right in our backyard," he said. "We must prevent the sale of these dangerous and life threatening products. There must be stronger laws and penalties that will protect our communities, families and children."

As CBS2's Lou Young reported, the fallout has been most visible in the city, but the suburbs are not immune.

"This isn't a city problem, no this is, quite honestly becoming a national problem," White Plains Commissioner, David Chong said, "We've come across people who are literally licking the sidewalk, other people that are walking into buildings thinking they're Superman."

Klein's bill would make selling more than 25 grams of the drug a felony punishable by up to five years in jail, WCBS 880's Marla Diamond reported.

WEB EXTRA: 5 Facts About Synthetic Marijuana

Businesses that sell the drug would also face increased fines and could be stripped of their alcohol, cigarette and lottery licenses.

One particular brand smells like vanilla flavored oregano, and looks like marijuana. When rolled up and smoked like marijuana it's much more intoxicating and downright dangerous.

"Actually it's just a driend organic plant substance with this cannabinoid sprayed on it. so, we've seen patients with side effects of having smoked insecticides," Dr. Mary Ann Popeil said.

At the Jacobi Medical Center psychiatric ward, Dr. Popiel said they see an average 10 cases a day.

"They come in acutely violent and have attacked other patients, they've attacked staff, they've broken property within the emergency room," she said.

Lawmakers Calling For Tougher Penalties To Combat Sales Of Synthetic Marijuana

Doctors say synthetic marijuana can cause seizures, psychosis and possible heart damage, 1010 WINS' Al Jones reported.

She said it's a very cheap and very easily attainable high, making it attractive to teenagers, the homeless and the mentally ill.

Police Commissioner Bill Bratton has called the drug "weaponized marijuana."

The sale of the drug is already illegal under the governor's executive order, punishable by a fine.

"It's $500, it's not enough, it's the cost of doing business," Klein said.

His bill would hike fines to $2,000 for a first offense, $5,000 for the second, and a loss of all state licenses on the third strike.

Backers of the bill said the stuff is still far too easy to get.

"It entices a child. In some cases children as young as twelve are taking this product and have to be taken to the emergency room for treatment. This is clearly being marketed to those most vulnerable in our community," Assemblyman Mark Gjonaj (D-Bronx) said.

The law proposes criminalizing the very chemicals used in the production of K-2, rather than just the product. At Jacobi Hospital doctors said ten patients a day are suffering the side effects.

Experts added that some dealers have been buying the drug in bodegas and re-selling it to psychiatric patients and homeless people near treatment facilities and shelters.

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