The NYPD has been drumming up attention over the supposed dangers of “synthetic marijuana” – a class of cannabinoid chemicals typically sprayed over plant matter and packaged with names like “K2,” “Spice” and “Green Giant.”
Last week, NYPD Commissioner Bill Bratton used highly emotional language, calling it “weaponized marijuana” and saying it makes people “totally crazy,” gives them superhuman strength, and using two videos to illustrate, seems to make people run around naked.
Problem is, one of those videos wasn’t even a person on any kind of synthetic cannabinoid. As Gothamist first reported, the video was actually from a 2003 episode of the series COPS, and shows someone allegedly on PCP.
New York isn’t the only place where we’ve seen fear-mongering tactics. Just two months ago, Washington D.C. Police Chief Cathy Lanier blamed the city’s increase in crime on use and sale of synthetic cannabinoids.
So what’s the truth behind all this hype?
Various synthetic cannabinoid products are mostly being used in homeless and other vulnerable populations. This product fills their particular needs: it’s cheap, accessible, and won’t show up on drug tests given by shelters or treatment centers.
Also, many of those in homeless or other vulnerable communities are struggling with mental health issues. Add to that the unpredictable effects of synthetic cannabinoids like K2, and you end up with a few individuals unlucky enough to have their resulting terrible drug experience happening in public spaces and filmed for all of us to watch.
No one’s saying that’s not a tough situation to walk into as a first responder. But that’s no excuse for police forces to spread misinformation, promote hysteria, and encourage further criminalization of poor people and people who use drugs.
So – law enforcement. Chill out. And consider these responses:
Incidentally, we also need a lot more research to understand these substances. But until that time, let’s pump the brakes on the “synthetic marijuana” freak-out and try to address the issue with science, compassion, health and human rights in mind.
Stefanie Jones is the nightlife community engagement manager for the Drug Policy Alliance.