Judges across New York are lending their support to the state attorney general’s crackdown on the sale of intoxicating “bath salts” and other chemicals designed to skirt drug laws.
Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman says that judges across the state have issued temporary restraining orders against 11 “head shop” retailers blocking them from selling designer drugs, including commonly known synthetics such as “bath salts” and “synthetic marijuana.”
The shops were in all parts of the state, including two in the North Country, one in Watertown and one in Plattsburgh.
The orders came one day after Schneiderman’s office filed lawsuits last week against head shops at 16 locations for violating the state's labeling laws. At a press conference in Rochester, Schneiderman revealed legal actions that followed statewide undercover investigations showing that head shop employees were illegally selling and promoting dangerous synthetic drugs.
To issue the temporary restraining orders, the judges agreed that Schneiderman’s lawsuits had shown a likelihood of success on the merits, and the potential for irreparable harm if the products were not removed.
In Syracuse, a judge instructed personnel from the attorney general’s office to immediately go to the head shop and verify all misbranded and mislabeled products had been removed from the shelves pursuant to the court order.
“The quick action by these judges to immediately remove dangerous, mislabeled products from store shelves is an indication of the urgency of addressing this problem,” said Schneiderman. “This is a major victory for the health and safety of consumers in New York State.”
The sale of these substances in head shops has contributed to growing public health concerns in New York State and across the nation. These products are typically packaged with innocuous names and bright graphics to give the misleading impression that their use is harmless, when in fact they have significant psychoactive effects, not always pleasant.
The investigation discovered products going by names like "MJ Blueberry Aromatic Potpourri," "Bizarro," "AMPED," "VOODOO" or "Cali Crunch," marketed with false descriptions such as “incense,” “butterfly attractant,” “glass cleaner,” “potpourri,” “sachets,” “dietary supplements,” or other common household products. Some products had no label whatsoever and most lacked comprehensive ingredient listings. All were deceptive and dangerous to consumers, according to the AG’s office.
Federal and state laws and regulations require that all consumer commodities, at a minimum, be labeled to describe net contents, identity of the product, and the name and place of business of the product's manufacturer, packer, and distributor.
Although Federal and State authorities have attempted to outlaw certain chemicals and their analogs and to remove these items from commerce, their efforts continue to fall short as the chemists and producers providing the products for head shops simply alter formulas and stay ahead of the legislation.
The attorney general's lawsuits also pursue retailers for illegal sale of nitrous oxide to the public, a specific violation of the state Public Health Law. Commonly known as "Whip Its," nitrous oxide has been linked to several deaths by asphyxiation and other adverse health effects. The gas is typically used by youths who see it as an easy "high."
Examples of the different types of reactions individuals have when under the influence of these dangerous concoctions take place throughout the state, include:
In Jefferson County, a 22-year-old man crashed into several cars in an Olive Garden parking lot then told police he had smoked "Spice" before driving.
In New York City, a 21-year-old film student leapt to his death off a Roosevelt Island balcony after smoking salvia, a hallucinogenic plant.
In Oneida County, a 45-year-old man high on bath salts and covered in his own blood was arrested after police say he chased his neighbor and trapped her in her home.
During the investigation, investigators from the attorney general's office shopped at number of typical head shops located in Buffalo, Rochester, Syracuse, Utica, Watertown, Plattsburgh, Albany, Poughkeepsie, Binghamton, Rockland, and Nassau Counties. Investigators entered each store and purchased a representative sample of illegally labeled intoxicants, capturing the transactions and interactions with store personnel using undercover video.
The lawsuit has been filed in 12 counties across the state against 16 store locations, from Buffalo to Long Island. In addition to successfully seeking an immediate end to the sale of mislabeled drugs, the lawsuit is seeking an accounting of all commodities sold or offered for sale including the name of the product, the manufacturer and/or distributor of the product, a description of the product, the retail price of the product and the number of units sold.