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Drug known as synthetic marijuana requires closer attention by Legislature

It is too late to help India Cummings, who died after her arrest for bizarre behavior while high on a drug known as synthetic marijuana. But the State Legislature could do more to prevent future cases by agreeing to push even harder against these dangerous drugs.

Synthetic marijuana can trigger hallucinations, agitation and violent behavior. Dr. Gale R. Burstein, the county health commissioner, allowed in a Buffalo News article that “smoking synthetic marijuana can change brain function and alter perception, mood and even consciousness.”

Cummings’ family and friends believe she took the drug before spiraling out of control. Lackawanna police say that last month she punched a motorist and dragged him out of his car. She led officers on a chase that ended once her car struck three vehicles and a school bus. While in custody she punched a jail deputy.

More than two weeks after her arrest, Cummings suffered a “medical event” and was pronounced dead on Feb. 21.

It is important to note that there has been no suggestion that Cummings, who was 27, died because she was high on synthetic marijuana. Friends and relatives have connected the drug only to her arrest.

Synthetic marijuana, K2, Spice, Nice Guy or whatever anyone wants to call it is not marijuana at all. It is a liquid chemical compound sprayed on dried leaves or plants. The resemblance to marijuana is that the dried leaves are then smoked or ingested.

It’s a dangerously attractive drug. One that is readily available, cheap and packaged in small foil pouches as incense or potpourri.

The extent of the problem is alarming. In one five-month period last year, 4,700 people went to emergency rooms across the state for problems related to the use of synthetic marijuana, according to the state Office of Alcoholism and Substance Abuse Services.

In March 2012, state public health law made it illegal to sell synthetic marijuana and threatened a fine of $250 per packet for stores found to be in possession.

That was found to be inadequate, and this year Senate Majority Leader John J. Flanagan Jr., R-Huntington, sponsored a bill to strengthen the law governing sale, possession and use of synthetic marijuana. Co-sponsors include Sens. Patrick M. Gallivan, R-Elma, and Michael H. Ranzenhofer, R-Amherst. The bill passed the Senate on Jan. 25 and has returned to the Assembly.

This bill recognizes that the chemical components of synthetic marijuana can be changed slightly in an attempt to evade the law. If approved, the new legislation would make an altered form illegal if the purpose and core components remain the same.

It is one approach in the effort to keep up with manufacturers. Legislators need to work together to close off this gray area that allows access to such a risky drug.