MAHOPAC, N.Y. - The Town Board unanimously passed legislation last week that bans the sale and possession of synthetic drugs—sometimes referred to as designer drugs—within the town’s borders.
The legislation, which had been proposed by Councilman Frank Lombardi, was modeled after a law that was passed unanimously by the Westchester County Legislature last month.
When he first proposed the code last month, Lombardi said the town considered passing such an ordinance several years ago, but the state beat them to it, thus making it no longer necessary to deal with it on the local level. However, manufacturers of the synthetic drugs found loopholes in the state law by concocting new formulas and have since continued to market and sell their products in New York.
These drugs have developed a reputation for being dangerous, Lombardi noted.
“They have become the source of some serious problems,” he said. “Besides death, they can cause erratic behavior and extreme illness.”
Police Chief Mike Cazzari said Carmel and Mahopac have been fortunate so far and have had no reported incidents related to synthetic drugs.
“We have not had any deaths or any [bad] reactions that I am aware of,” he said. “But nationally there have been deaths and Westchester must be having problems as well. Whether you do it at the town level or county level, the more publicity, the more spotlights you put on it the better.”
“It’s not a big problem here, but let’s nip it in the bud and make sure that nothing does happen here,” he said.
Susan Salomone, co-founder of Drug Crisis in Our Backyard, told the board during a June 14 public hearing that her organization supports the legislation.
“We feel that too many people can get their hands on these synthetics, including what they call synthetic marijuana,” she said. “It’s really not marijuana at all. It’s just herbs sprayed with poison.”
Salomone said parents have told her stories about their children having bad experiences with synthetic drugs.
“We have had many families tell us their young adult children have gotten their hands on these drugs and totally lost their minds when they were on them,” she said.
To combat the loopholes synthetic drug manufacturers found in the state law, the Carmel legislation, which mimics the law passed in Westchester, is more comprehensive and adds more compounds to the banned list.
“It expands the definition of synthetic drugs and synthetic cannabinoids,” Lombardi said.
Lombardi said he believed it was important for Carmel to have such a law once Westchester had its in place so that residents from the neighboring county couldn’t come across the border and get them.
Carmel police D.A.R.E. officer, Det. Frank Chibbaro, said last month when the idea for the law was first proposed that he thought it was “a great idea.”
“The problem with these things is they change just one compound and it’s a whole new product [and creates a loophole in the law],” he said. “[Manufacturers] added 117 more compounds in one year because they figured out the loophole.”
The new law defines the term “synthetic drug” as any product, “whether described as tobacco, potpourri, herbs, incense, spice, aromatics or any combination thereof, and whether marketed for the purposes of being smoked, ingested or injected, or otherwise marketed, which includes, but is not limited to, one or more of the following hallucinogenic substances…” The law then goes on to list myriad compounds that fall under the ban.
The new code states that any person in violation will be guilty of a misdemeanor punishable by a fine of not more than $500 or imprisonment of up to one year, or both.
“I want to thank those who supported this local law, including our friends in the Westchester Legislature who provided us with the draft legislation,” said Lombardi after the law was passed. “Like I said, why reinvent the wheel when they already did all the work on it. Hopefully, [Carmel] can be the impetus to spread this to other towns and the rest of the county.”
Supervisor Ken Schmitt said he’s been told that the county may be looking to act on a similar type of law.
“They haven’t yet, but I hear some legislators are interested,” he said.