Synthetic Marijuana removed from Northampton head shops

By Ardee Napolitano

MCT

Synthetic marijuana – popularly known as “K2”, “K3” and “Spice” – is dropping from head shop shelves all over Northampton due to recommendations by the Northampton Police Department that the substance is harmful when abused.

For a month now, the police department has been going around to local head and smoke shops in the city to urge merchants to withdraw synthetic marijuana, which has recently been called dangerous by various medical organizations.

“There are increased reports of young people ingesting synthetic pot and getting injured,” said Detective Sgt. Anne McMahon, the officer in charge of the ongoing operation.

Three individuals were hospitalized in Westfield after using it, which increased concern over the health hazards of the substance in western Massachusetts, McMahon said. Police seized about $12,000 worth of products from two businesses after the incident, she said.

Synthetic pot, according to McMahon, contains a number of “combinations of chemicals that create crazy types of effects.”

These chemicals include the compound JWH-018, a major ingredient in the marijuana alternative Spice and is suspected to cause cardiovascular damage, she said.

Yet, these chemicals are legal in the state of Massachusetts.

The substance is being marketed with many prominent aliases – such as K2, K3 and Spice – said Joey Kennedy, an employee at Shop Therapy, a Northampton store that sold synthetic pot until a month ago.

Kennedy said the drug also has more obscure names, such as “Flying Buddha,” “Puff the Magic Dragon” and “Space Monkey.”

“It almost seems like it was angled toward kids,” Kennedy said.

Since becoming available to the public two years ago, synthetic pot has gained popularity in western Massachusetts, Kennedy said, especially with teens on probation and with veterans who want to smoke marijuana but do not want to lose their benefits from the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs.

Christopher Cooke, an employee at The Hempest in Northampton, blames the absence of a medical marijuana program in the state for the “scary” popularity of synthetic pot.

“People seek that effect to medicate themselves, and since we are not legally able to grow or buy cannabis for medical uses a lot of people are left short,” Cooke said. “They don’t want to feel like they’re stepping outside the law.”

Kennedy said he was aware of the dangers of synthetic pot, because the packaging on the products are labeled, “Not for Human Consumption.”

He also said he’s heard reports of people getting injured after using the drug.

“I’ve never seen anything firsthand, but I hear rumors here and there about someone’s kidneys failing and someone getting into a car accident,” Kennedy said.

Cooke said he has seen people get hurt after using synthetic pot.

“I have had a friend that, due to this circumstance, was hospitalized afterwards,” he said.

The Hempest does not sell synthetic pot, Cooke said.

Cooke said he was introduced to the drug while he was working in Boston, where he said it was very popular. He said the laws surrounding the substance in Boston have gotten stricter.

According to McMahon, stores have been cooperative with the police department for the removal of synthetic pot in Northampton.

“[The] majority of local merchants weren’t selling the products, and those who were selling it were aware [of the dangers] and have already removed the products from their shelves,” she said. “They were excellent.”

Kennedy said that he was “not surprised” with the police department’s move to suggest removal of synthetic pot from stores. He consulted the health department and consequently removed the substance from Shop Therapy’s shelves the day before police visited the store.

While he understands the health risks involved with synthetic pot, Kennedy said the voluntary removal hurts business due to continued demand for the substance,

“It affects us plenty. That stuff sold for $30 a packet,” he said. “If I’m getting six or seven people coming after it, that’s $210 I’m not making.”

McMahon said the police department, together with the Drug Enforcement Administration, is pushing for the illegalization of the chemicals in synthetic marijuana, which are now under investigation.

The push for illegalization, she said, will be backed by Chapter 270, Section 18 of the Massachusetts General Law, which states that, “No person shall intentionally smell or inhale the fumes of any substance having the property of releasing toxic vapors, for the purpose of causing a condition of intoxication.”

Ardee Napolitano can be reached at [email protected].