Braunstein wants tougher penalties on bath salt sales

Ed Braunstein
Photo by Nathan Duke
By Phil Corso

Lawmakers moved to toughen penalties on the use and sale of synthetic drugs throughout the state last week, introducing new legislation and regulations.

State Assemblyman Ed Braunstein (D-Bayside) announced he had joined with state Sen. Joseph Griffo (R-Rome) to unveil new legislation aimed at addressing the growing use of drugs commonly referred to as bath salts. The same week, the state Department of Health issued new regulations on the increasingly widespread use of the drugs, according to Gov. Andrew Cuomo.

Braunstein was part of a bipartisan legislative effort to restrict the sale and use of bath salts, which are chemically related to methamphetamines and ecstasy, in July 2011 and said more regulations were needed to address rising concerns.

“Between the time we developed last year’s legislation and this summer, we have seen an explosion of synthetic drugs that are causing serious law enforcement, health and mental health problems for communities and families across New York state,” Braunstein said. “Our goal with this new legislation is to respond to the concerns addressed to us by law enforcement and develop a bill that will give them the tools needed to crack down harder in order to end the widespread misuse of these drugs.”

Bath salts can be snorted, injected or smoked.

The initial legislation passed last year criminalized the sale of bath salts containing the substances Mephedrone and MDPV, Griffo said, but current practices of making slight changes to the chemicals have allowed slightly altered drugs to continue to be sold, Griffo said.

The new bill, Braunstein said, would classify substituted cathinones, otherwise known as bath salts, as Schedule I stimulant-controlled substances and create a statewide substituted Cathinone Surrender Program to allow for surrender of these harmful substances to appropriate authorities.

Referring to several recent incidents in which abusers of the drug, sometimes sold under names including White Lightning, Snow Leopard and Zoom, dangerously confronted law enforcement officials, Griffo said the new legislation would seek to protect more New York families and emergency responders.

In 2011, there were 39 reported emergency room visits in upstate New York as a result of bath salts, compared to 191 already occurring in 2012, Cuomo said.

“What we are seeing in recent days is a dramatic upsurge in incidents in which the violent, bizarre behavior of individuals who have confronted the police is being linked to their use of these drugs,” Griffo said.

In another announcement, Cuomo said the Health Department expanded its list of prohibited drugs and chemicals to include dozens more substances used to make synthetic drugs. The regulations increase criminal penalties and will allow those selling the drugs to be charged with possession of an illicit substance, Cuomo said.

“Bath salts and other synthetic drugs pose a direct, serious threat to public health and safety, and we must do everything we can to remove these harmful substances from sale and distribution in New York,” Cuomo said. “The actions we are announcing today attack the problem by helping our law enforcement officers enforce the rules, expanding the list of banned substances used to manufacture bath salts and imposing tougher penalties so those who sell these drugs are held accountable.”

Reach reporter Phil Corso by e-mail at pcorso@cnglocal.com or by phone at 718-260-4573.

More from Around New York