Pubdate: Wed, 05 Aug 2015
Source: Boston Globe (MA)
Copyright: 2015 Globe Newspaper Company
Author: Jan Ransom


At 5 a.m. when Pamela Vasquez would arrive at the Citgo gas station 
in Fields Corner where she works, it was no surprise to see a line of 
people there, anxiously waiting.

But they weren't looking to fuel up their cars or buy snacks or 
scratch-offs from the Quick Mart.

Instead, they were there to purchase what is called synthetic 
marijuana, also known as K2, spice, crazy monkey, and Scooby snacks, 
a designer drug that does not actually contain marijuana but is 
made-up of a variety of plants sprayed with chemicals, according to 
Boston police and the Centers for Disease Control. It is often 
marketed as incense or potpourri.

The popular drugs, which can cause hallucinations and psychotic 
episodes, are legal - raising the concerns of Boston police, who are 
working with City Council to ban the substances.

Under a proposal sponsored by City Councilor Frank Baker, any person 
selling synthetic marijuana could be fined $300 for each day they 
continue to sell the products. A person in possession of the drugs 
would also be fined $300. The proposal is slated for a hearing 
Wednesday in City Hall.

"It's one of those things that's up-and-coming," Lieutenant Detective 
Brian Larkin, commander of the Boston Police Department's drug 
control unit, said Tuesday, noting the product is typically sold at 
mom-and-pop stores, gas stations, and smoke shops. "We're seeing more 
and more of it."

Boston EMS responded to 76 cases related to synthetic marijuana as of 
July 28, up from 19 for all of last year, Larkin said.

The federal government has banned many of the substances found in 
synthetic marijuana, but law enforcement and health officials said 
manufacturers have remained one step ahead by continuously altering 
the product.

There are a number of active investigations related to the drug, and 
police have been testing samples purchased to determine if any 
contain federally banned substances, Larkin said, but none of the 
samples tested so far were found to be in violation.

Larkin said the products are sold around the city, including downtown 
and in Dorchester.

"We're having problems in our neighborhoods," Baker said.

The demand was brisk at the gas station in Fields Corner, where 
hundreds of people would flock to buy the product, Vasquez said.

Crowds would pour into the gas station's Quick Mart daily to buy the 
substances, and in a day the station would make thousands of dollars 
from sales of synthetic marijuana alone, she said.

But residents began to complain when they were hassled by suspected 
buyers, some of whom had psychotic episodes.

The gas station owner stopped selling the products about a week ago, 
Vasquez said.

But she and residents living near the gas station described a chaotic 
scene during the time the product was sold.

"They were getting crazy [and] fighting," Vasquez said, adding that 
one man tried to rob a woman to get money to purchase the drug. "It 
was a crazy place when we had that stuff."

Aziza Robinson-Goodnight, who often travels around the area with her 
1-year-old daughter, said she had been harassed by someone who 
appeared to be using the designer drugs.

"It's creepy," she said. "They act like zombies."

The products have been a growing problem throughout the country since 
they were first introduced to the United States between 2008 and 
2009, said Royal Law, an epidemiologist with CDC's National Center 
for Environmental Health.

In June, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported that 
synthetic marijuana led to a major spike in calls to poison control 
centers between January and May this year - 3,572 calls, up from 
1,085 the previous year.

Law said there was also an increase in the number of users between 
the ages of 18 and 35.

"It doesn't seem like these trends will be going down anytime soon," 
Law said. "If you have these products, you should throw them away. 
You should not use them."
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MAP posted-by: Jay Bergstrom