Town Board Takes Aim at Synthetic Drugs

Spice is typical of the synthetic drugs the Carmel Town Board seeks to ban. Drug Crisis in Our Backyard officials warn it’s “not marijuana.” Credits: Photo courtesy of Lance Cpl. Damany S. Coleman/US Marine Corps

MAHOPAC, N.Y.— The Carmel Town Board is considering enacting a law that would ban the sale, possession, and use of so-called synthetic drugs, also known as designer drugs, within its borders.

Deputy Supervisor Frank Lombardi proposed the law after he learned of similar legislation passed earlier this month by the Westchester County Legislature.

Lombardi said the town considered passing such a law four or five years ago, but then the state did it so it was no longer necessary to deal with it on the local level. However, he said, manufacturers of synthetic drugs found loopholes in the state code and have continued to market and sell them in New York.

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“Since the state passed the [legislation], the manufacturers have changed their chemical compounds to skirt the law,” he said. “The [drugs] have become the source of some serious problems. Besides death, they can cause erratic behavior and extreme illness. You see it all the time on TV.”

Lombardi said that the new Westchester legislation is more comprehensive than the old state law and adds more compounds to the banned list.

“It expands the definition of synthetic drugs and synthetic cannabinoids,” he said. “I would like to do it in Carmel. We border Yorktown and Somers in so many areas. I don’t want [people] to be able to come across the street and buy them in the town of Carmel now that they are banned [in Westchester].”

He said that Carmel could create a law that mimicked the Westchester code with a few minor changes if deemed necessary.

“I don’t need to reinvent the wheel,” he said. “They did a great job in Westchester. The county legislature passed it 17-0. We can tweak it a little bit if we feel we need to, but I am very happy with it.”

Some board members suggested such legislation should be more the purview of the county, which could pass a more all-encompassing law.

“I would suggest doing it at the county level,” said Councilwoman Suzi McDonough. “Having each town [in the county] do it one by one [would be cumbersome], and then we could also encompass the entire state. We can send something out to the county and [state] Sen. [Terrence] Murphy [to advocate for such a law].”

Councilman Jonathan Schneider also said that Carmel should encourage the county to enact such legislation, but was not averse to the town doing it first.

“We should pressure our county legislators to do the same, but I’m for it; whatever we can do to keep this from getting to the hands of not just our kids, but from any of our residents,” he said. “We have a lot of evidence that shows there are adverse effects. We should be proactive but we should not only look at the town but look at the county as a whole. It would be a bigger benefit for the [bigger] picture.”

Lombardi said that while he favored the county and/or the state creating an updated law on a synthetic drug ban, he said Carmel could do it quicker and protect its own residents with more immediacy.

“Our process is a little shorter,” he said.

Steve Salomone, co-founder of Drug Crisis in Our Backyard, said he would like to see the Town Board act now and not wait for the county or the state.

“These drugs that you are proposing to cover by this ban are not meant for human consumption,” he told the board during last week’s meeting. “[Manufacturers] created a loophole that’s outside the law and for that reason alone we need to take immediate action.  With the loopholes and the availability of these drugs, kids are more likely to get their hands on them. For our youngsters, it could devastate their whole lives. So, I think you need to take a leadership role. I agree we need it at the state level, but let’s take a leadership role and send a message to Albany that this is what we expect.

“It is a disgrace that people put this out on the street,” Salomone added. “It’s deadly. This is not marijuana.”

Town officials said such products are often found in gas stations and delis, but noted they were not aware of any retailers that currently sold them in Carmel or Mahopac.

“I hope that any Carmel businesses that sell it realize it’s not a worthwhile thing to do and that we are serious about protecting our kids and protecting our community,” Lombardi said. “In addition to the heroin and opioid abuse, this is just one more thing that we need to address.”

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 in our town,” he told the board. “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.”

Lombardi provided Town Board members with a copy of the law that Westchester adopted and noted that it included three times the number of banned compounds than the old state law.

Carmel police D.A.R.E. officer, Det. Frank Chibbaro, said he thought that creating such a law 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 Westchester 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 Westchester law calls for a $500 fine for the first offense and a $1,000 fine for the second infraction. The second and subsequent offenses would be considered misdemeanors. Some in the audience at last week’s meeting felt those fines fell short and would not act as a deterrent. Lombardi said that was something that the board could address and he was open to the idea of increasing the size of the fines.

After the board creates a final draft of the proposed law, town attorney Greg Folchetti said it could hold a public hearing on the legislation next month.

“It starts in Carmel; everything starts in Carmel,” Lombardi said. “We have to take the lead.”

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