A product called "Head Banger," purchased at a Saugerties gas station (photo by Will Dendis)

Last week, it was possible to purchase powerful psychotropic drugs at local convenience stores. But with the simultaneous passage of state and local laws, the party’s over.

On March 29, the state issued a declaration to all county health commissioners banning the sale of synthetic marijuana. On that same day, Saugerties adopted its own ban, which local officials say is tougher. It includes misdemeanor criminal penalties for sale and possession. The state law includes civil penalties for sale but no ban on possession.

Penalties under the Saugerties law range from a fine of up to $250 for the first offense to up to a year in jail and a fine of up to $1,000 for the third offense.

Another difference is enforcement. County health departments will enforce the state ban. Saugerties police will enforce its ban.

Additionally, the state ban does not cover all of the synthetic substances the local law does, Myers added.

Synthetic marijuana, also called “spice,” is a designer drug usually marketed as herbal incense or potpourri. There are dozens of brand names, like K2, Hayze, Zohan, Head Banger, Yucatan Fire, and Funky Monkey. Chemical analysis of the products suggest the intoxicating effect comes from a synthetic additive to the plant material which mimics the effects of THC, the active ingredient in marijuana. The effects are meant to be simulate marijuana, but anecdotal evidence suggests the side effects are worse. They include hallucination, psychosis, intense anxiety, increased heart rate and elevated blood pressure. Some users have reportedly had heart attacks caused by the synthetic drug as well as multi-organ failure.

Sue Osterhoudt, an administrator with the Saugerties school system, said school administrators learned about the proposed law in the Saugerties Times.

“We know that students are using this stuff and it needs to be taken out of the stores,” said Osterhoudt.

Ulster County District Attorney Holley Carnright, a Saugerties resident, also worked on the law. “I see the aftermath of the teens’ behavior and this law is sending an important message.”

Board member Leanne Thornton, who is a teacher in Colombia County, said that this is an issue that all kids face, “because they see it out there, and they think it’s okay to use it.”

Prior to the adoption of the law a number of residents spoke in favor of the measure’s passage.

Christine Summers, whose son Evan Wiswiewski died in 2008 at the age of 15 after taking a dose of methadone, a synthetic opioid given to him by a local woman and usually used to wean addicts off heroin, thanked Myers for protecting the children of Saugerties.

Holding up a picture of her son, as well as those of other Saugerties teens who have died because of drugs, a tearful Summers said, “thank you for caring about our kids in Saugerties. We must find a way to protect our kids.”

“We need to stand up as a community and fight this,” added resident Susan Sachar.

From now on, those looking to get their legal kicks at local stores will have to go back to beer.