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Post date: July 10 2012

A.G. Schneiderman Announces 12 Lawsuits Against "Head Shops" Across The State For Illegally Selling Bath Salts And Other Synthetic Drugs

A.G.'s Undercover Investigation Revealed Rochester Head Shop Employees Giving Tutorials On How To Use Dangerous Intoxicants

Schneiderman: We Are Fighting Back To Control This Crisis, And Ensure That The Days Of Profiting Off The Illegal Sale Of These Dangerous Drugs Are Over

ROCHESTER- Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman today announced that his office has filed 12 lawsuits across the State of New York against head shop retailers for violating the state's labeling laws by selling designer drugs, including commonly known synthetics such as "bath salts" and "synthetic marijuana." In Rochester, Attorney General Schneiderman took legal action against "Look ah Hookah" after an undercover investigation revealed that employees were illegally selling and promoting dangerous synthetic drugs.

The sale of these dangerous drugs in head shops has contributed to a public health crisis in New York State and across the nation. With psychoactive effects similar to those in substances obtained for illegal drug use, these products are typically packaged with innocuous names and bright graphics to give the misleading impression that their use is harmless.

"The proliferation of illegal synthetic drugs has become a national crisis. In Rochester and across the state, our undercover investigations have revealed the widespread sales and promotion of bath salts and other dangerous drugs that are destroying people’s lives," said Attorney General Schneiderman. "We discovered that head shop employees were giving tutorials on how to use dangerous intoxicants. With today’s actions, we are fighting back to control this crisis, and ensure that the days of profiting off the illegal sale of these dangerous drugs are over."

Attorney General Schneiderman's undercover video investigation discovered head shops were labeling these dangerous products going by names like "MJ Blueberry Aromatic Potpourri", "Bizarro," "AMPED," "VOODOO" or "Cali Crunch," and marketing them with false descriptions such as “incense,” “butterfly attractant,” “glass cleaner,” “potpourri,” “sachets,” “dietary supplements,” or other common household products. Some products had no label whatsoever and most lacked comprehensive ingredient listings. All were deceptive and dangerous to consumers.

Federal and state laws and regulations require that all consumer commodities, at a minimum, be labeled to describe net contents, identity of the product, and the name and place of business of the product's manufacturer, packer, and distributor.

Although Federal and State authorities have attempted to outlaw certain chemicals and their analogs and to remove these items from commerce, their efforts continue to fall short as the chemists and producers providing the products for head shops simply alter formulas and stay ahead of the legislation.

The Attorney General's lawsuits also pursue retailers for illegal sale of nitrous oxide to the public, a specific violation of the State Public Health Law. Commonly known as "Whip Its," nitrous oxide has been linked to several deaths by asphyxiation and other adverse health effects. The gas is typically used by youths who see it as an easy "high."

In May of this year, a senior investigator from the Attorney General's office made four separate investigative visits to two Rochester stores, both named "Look ah Hookah," located at 452 West Ridge Road and 1635 Henrietta Road. At the 452 West Ridge Road store, the agent purchased two variations of the powerful smokable substance "K2" labeled "Zombie Matter" and "Voodoo," along with a pipe used as a smoking device. Both of these substances were described by a clerk as "herbal incenses." On a second trip to the 452 West Ridge Road location, the investigator bought Fly Agaric Mushrooms, a well-known psychedelic. At the "Look ah Hookah" at 1635 Henrietta Road, the agent purchased a charger of nitrous oxide (N2O), a package of the herb Salvia, and a "water pipe" recommended by a clerk to be the "best" way to smoke Salvia. During his next visit to 1635 Henrietta Road, the investigator bought "MJ Blueberry Aromatic Potpourri" and "kratom" an extremely potent plant with opiate-like effects. Despite these items being advertised and labeled as "potpourri" or "incense" the agent once purchased a smoking device upon recommendation from the store's clerk.

Examples of the different types of reactions individuals have when under the influence of these dangerous concoctions take place throughout the state, include:

  • In Jefferson County, a 22-year-old man crashed into several cars in an Olive Garden parking lot then told police he had smoked "Spice" before driving.
  • In New York City, a 21-year-old film student leapt to his death off a Roosevelt Island balcony after smoking salvia, a hallucinogenic plant.
  • In Oneida County, a 45-year-old man high on bath salts and covered in his own blood was arrested after police say he chased his neighbor and trapped her in her home.

The Attorney General's office has obtained affidavits from those in the medical community highlighting the need to combat this dangerous trend. Dr. Maja Lundborg-Gray told the Attorney General's office that patients who have taken bath salts are also frequently violent and present a definite danger, not only to the public, but to first responders who care for them.

Maja Lundborg-Gray, M.D. at Samaritan Medical Center in Watertown, said, "There is a completely new level of violence and unpredictability associated with these patients. In some instances, hospital staff have been diverted from helping other patients in order to assist in securing and stabilizing designer drug users. This demonstrates the gravity of the danger posed by users of designer drugs. I support Attorney General Schneiderman's efforts of getting these unlabeled, misbranded and misleading so called ‘designer drugs’ off store shelves in New York State."

During the investigation, investigators from the Attorney General's office shopped at number of typical head shops located in Buffalo, Rochester, Syracuse, Utica, Watertown, Plattsburgh, Albany, Poughkeepsie, Binghamton, Rockland, and Nassau Counties. Investigators entered each store and purchased a representative sample of illegally labeled intoxicants, capturing the transactions and interactions with store personnel using undercover video.

The Attorney General's lawsuit has been filed in 12 counties across the state against 16 store locations, from Buffalo to Long Island, and seeks an immediate end to the sale of mislabeled drugs. In addition, the lawsuit is seeking an accounting of all commodities sold or offered for sale including the name of the product, the manufacturer and/or distributor of the product, a description of the product, the retail price of the product and the number of units sold.

The following stores are named in the lawsuit:

  • Pavilion International in Buffalo and Commack
  • Look Ah Hookah in Rochester (2 locations)
  • Twisted Headz in Syracuse
  • Trip on the Wild Side II in Watertown
  • Rolling Fire Glassworks in Binghamton
  • Goodfellas Alternative Smoke Shop in Utica
  • 20 Below/ This and That in Plattsburgh
  • Shining Star Enterprises in Albany
  • Giggles in Poughkeepsie
  • Village Sensations in Nanuet
  • East Coast Psychedelics in Oceanside and Commack
  • Daze Smoke Shop in Baldwin

The investigation was conducted by investigators Chad Shelmidine and Ryan Fannon under the supervision of Senior Investigator Christopher Holland, directed by Assistant Chief Antoine Karam.

The case is being prosecuted by Assistant Attorneys General In-Charge, Deanna Nelson and Gary Brown along with Assistant Attorney General, Judith Malkin under the supervision of Executive Deputy Attorney General for Regional Offices, Martin J. Mack.