FILE - This file photo shows a package of K2 , a concoction of dried herbs sprayed with chemicals.
New Jersey Attorney General Jeff Chiesa on Wednesday announced a ban on any of the hundreds of drugs designed to mimic the effects of marijuana, making the possession, sale and manufacture of such drugs now punishable by three to five years in prison and a fine of up to $25,000.
Under state law, officials are allowed to reclassify certain chemicals to restrict their availability. The ban, which was issued Tuesday by the state Division of Consumer Affairs, covers all possible variants of the drug.
The drugs will now be considered controlled dangerous substances — like cocaine or heroin.
In April, the state adopted a temporary federal ban on five variants of synthetic marijuana, but Chiesa said that's not good enough.
"When one product is banned, the manufacturers and dealers find it all too easy to evade the law by creating new toxic products that have similar effects on the brain, but are not specifically identified as illegal," Chiesa said. "Today, we are ending this dangerous game played by drug dealers. We are making it unambiguously clear that if a synthetic chemical is being sold because it mimics the effects of marijuana, the dealer is committing a crime."
There is pending state legislation to ban three variants of the drug, and federal legislation is also pending. The Drug Enforcement Administration has used its emergency authority to temporarily ban several chemicals used to produce synthetic marijuana and synthetic stimulants, including bath salts, which New Jersey has also banned.
According to a 2011 study by the National Institute on Drug Abuse, synthetic marijuana is the third most-commonly abused drug by high school seniors behind real marijuana and prescription drugs.
Like bath salts, packets of the fake marijuana have been salt at gas stations often under t street names like "K2," ''Spice," and "Space Cadet." Last year, the New Jersey Poison Education Center received 146 calls reporting exposure to synthetic marijuana.