July 18, 2016
Albany, NY

Governor Cuomo Announces Arrest and Charges in Rochester as Part of Statewide Sweeps to Crackdown on Illegal Sale of K2

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Governor Andrew M. Cuomo today announced that a man in Rochester, New York was arrested and charged for illegally selling synthetic marijuana and violating state tax law. The arrest and charges were made as part of a series of statewide enforcement actions, including an increased police presence and additional sweeps in local communities, to combat the illegal sale of K2. This weekend, the New York State Police, working in conjunction with the New York State Department of Taxation and Finance, seized more than 150 packets of suspected synthetic marijuana in the City of Rochester.

“Synthetic marijuana poses a significant threat to the health and safety of New Yorkers, and the State is taking aggressive action to combat the illegal sale of this drug,” Governor Cuomo said. “By cracking down on bad actors, these arrests send the message that those who flout the law and endanger the public safety will be held accountable.”

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After receiving tips of locations selling synthetic marijuana (or “K2”), State Police visited various shops and stores in multiple locations around the state. As a result, more than 150 packets of suspected synthetic marijuana were seized from stores in Rochester. Three locations in Rochester were also found to have improperly taxed tobacco products. 

Samples of the seized products in Rochester were analyzed by the Department of Health’s Wadsworth Center laboratory in Albany. XLR-11, a compound found in the seizure, is among the substances added by DOH to the banned substances list in 2015. 

Mohammed Ghazanfar, the owner of the Loomis and Joseph Mart located at 718 Joseph Avenue in Rochester, New York, was charged with unlawful possession of a synthetic drug (unclassified misdemeanor), and a violation of the Department of Health regulation banning the possession of synthetic cannabinoid substances. Ghazanfar also faces charges for Criminal Tax Fraud (class E felony) and two Cigarette and Tobacco Products Tax violations (class E felony and an unclassified misdemeanor).

Superintendent George P. Beach II said, “Synthetic drugs are a very serious health and public safety issue across New York. We have succeeded in taking K2 off of our streets, and send a strong message that the sale of these illegal substances will not be tolerated in our state. The State Police is committed to working with our state, federal and local law enforcement partners to keep these hazardous substances out of our communities.”

New York State Health Commissioner Dr. Howard Zucker said, “The Department of Health is working closely with the New York State Police and other state agencies to stem the tide of this public health crisis and keep New Yorkers safe. Under Governor Cuomo’s leadership, we will continue to work together to get these extremely dangerous man-made chemicals off our streets.”

NYS Office of Alcoholism and Substance Abuse Services Commissioner Arlene González-Sánchez said, "Synthetics are dangerous and can be deadly. I applaud Governor Cuomo, the State Police and our other State agency partners for their commitment to stopping those who are illegally selling these poisons. These substances are not safe. There is no place for these man-made, harmful substances on our streets."

Last week, New York stepped up statewide enforcement efforts to ensure that businesses fully comply with all applicable laws, including the 2012 emergency regulations banning the manufacture, sale, and distribution of synthetic marijuana. Additionally, the Governor directed that the Department of Health's Bureau of Narcotics Enforcement, the State Liquor Authority and the New York State Gaming Commission increase their oversight efforts and revoke store owners’ liquor and lottery licenses if they are found to be illegally peddling K2. The State continues to vigorously pursue all available civil, criminal, and administrative remedies against any business or business owner found to be manufacturing, possessing for sale or selling illegal synthetic marijuana.

In 2012, Governor Cuomo directed the Department of Health to issue regulations prohibiting the possession, manufacture, distribution and sale of synthetic drugs and chemicals. In addition, the regulations allowed for the first time an owner of an establishment and/or an employee selling synthetic marijuana to be criminally charged with possession of an illicit substance. 

In 2015, the Governor built on this progress by adding two additional classes of compounds to the banned substances list, which would potentially cover hundreds of different hazardous chemicals. These additions were unanimously approved by the Public Health and Health Planning Council. Last year Governor Cuomo also announced two new public service announcements to educate and inform New Yorkers about the dangers of synthetic marijuana.

Under current law, an owner of an establishment, as well as any other person possessing, distributing, selling or offering prohibited synthetic marijuana for sale, will face a fine up to $500 and/or up to 15 days in jail. Civil penalties include a fine up to $2,000 per violation.

Synthetic marijuana is marketed as legal and typically consists of plant material coated by chemicals, which are supposed to mimic THC, the active chemical compound in naturally grown marijuana. The drugs are marketed as incense, herbal mixtures, or potpourri in order to mask their true purpose. Brand names for substances include Spice, K2, Green Giant, Smacked, Wicked X, AK-47, Geeked Up, Ninja, Caution, Red Giant, and Keisha Kole. The packets that tested positive in Rochester are known as “Scooby Snax.”

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