DEA Says Synthetic Marijuana Proceeds Being Funneled to Middle East

By May Wilkerson 08/11/15

Profits from the lucrative trade find their way to hotspots like Syria and Yemen.

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New York City’s unregulated synthetic marijuana industry is allegedly funneling cash to Middle Eastern countries, like Syria and Jordan, according to federal drug enforcement officials.

Two years ago, investigators began a nationwide crackdown on the drug, which is manufactured from chemicals made in China and then mixed with herbs or liquids in the U.S.

In New York City, synthetic marijuana is often sold at bodegas and smoke shops owned by people of Middle Eastern descent, said investigators, which explains why some of the profits end up overseas.

"Many of these investigations continued to uncover the massive flow of drug-related proceeds to countries in the Middle East, including Yemen, Jordan, Syria and Lebanon, as well as other countries," said the federal Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) in a bulletin last year.

The feds have deemed synthetic pot a public health issue, especially because of its appeal to kids and young people. Sold under names like “K2” and “Spice,” it is meant to mimic the effects of weed, but may be dangerous because it is unregulated and its effects are more unpredictable than the real thing.

According to DEA spokesman Eduardo Chavez, the substance is becoming more dangerous as the chemicals have changed in the past few years, getting even farther away from actual marijuana.

Last week, NYPD Commissioner William Bratton called the drug “weaponized marijuana.” He warned possible side effects may include “excited delirium syndrome,” which can manifest as aggressive or violent behavior, or a potentially fatal rapid heartbeat. The drug is especially popular among the city’s homeless and responsible for up to 100 emergency room visits a week, according to Bratton.

Currently, simple possession of synthetic marijuana is not a crime under New York penal law, said NYPD Assistant Deputy Commissioner Robert F. Messner, though officials are urging State Legislature to amend it.

Under public health and sanitation law, police can issue summonses to those who sell synthetic pot. Sellers can also be prosecuted under state agriculture and marketing laws, since the drug is often deceptively labeled as “not fit for human consumption,” despite being sold for that purpose.

Since the crackdown began, many smoke shop and bodega owners have reportedly been “more cautious” about selling the stuff. But many have persevered. One NYPD official said, "I don't think it is going away because people are making too much money.”

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May Wilkerson is a writer, comic and Managing Editor @someecards. Co-host of the podcast Crazy; In Bed w/alyssalimp. She is also the top Google result for "insufferable lunatic." Follow this insufferable lunatic on Twitter.