New Jersey becomes the 4th state in the nation to announce a statewide ban on the manufacture, sale and possession of dangerous designer drugs commonly known as "K2? or "Spice."

In April 2011, New Jersey adopted a temporary Federal ban on five variants of synthetic marijuana. Pending state legislation would ban three variants of the drug, and pending federal legislation would ban additional synthetic marijuana substances.

However, hundreds of variants of the drug have been sold nationwide and in New Jersey, in defiance of attempts to declare synthetic marijuana illegal.

Attorney General Chiesa noted that the ban, issued today by the Division of Consumer Affairs, is much more comprehensive than previous efforts to eliminate synthetic marijuana. It includes both broad and specific language that includes all possible variants of the drug.

"This expansive action is necessary due to the unique nature of synthetic marijuana and other so-called designer drugs. 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," Attorney General Chiesa said.

"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."

Packets of synthetic marijuana and other designer drugs have been sold at gas stations, boardwalk novelty shops and other locations across the state, mainly in Monmouth, Ocean, Middlesex, and Atlantic Counties.

"Those seem to be the areas near the Shore that attract a lot of youth who end up purchasing these drugs," said State Division of Consumer Affairs Director Tom Calcagni.

Dangerous and Deadly

According to reported data, between 2010 and 2011 the number of synthetic marijuana exposures reported to poison control centers jumped by 139 percent nationwide, and by an alarming 711 percent in New Jersey alone.

Of the 146 cases reported in New Jersey during 2011, 92 percent resulted in symptoms alarming enough to require treatment in a healthcare facility.

"Teens are getting seizures, having hallucinations, they are going into the ambulance unconscious and those affects can last for several days" said Dr. Diane Calello, a toxicologist at the New Jersey Poison Control Center.

A recent, nationwide study funded by the National Institute on Drug Abuse shows synthetic marijuana is the third most commonly abused drug by American high school seniors, after marijuana and abused prescription drugs.

"These are devastating substances that can have really serious problems on a person's health, we are talking about dangerous chemicals" said Calello.

The manufacture, distribution, sale, or possession of the chemicals is now a third-degree crime. Violators may be subject to a fine of up to $25,000 and imprisonment for a three- to five-year term.

NJ Legislator Calls For More Action

Calling action taken by the attorney general to ban synthetic marijuana commendable, State Sen. Shirley Turner (D-Mercer) said she plans to introduce legislation which would impose a statutory ban on chemicals that produce effects similar to marijuana.

"I commend the attorney general for taking action to address the problem of synthetic marijuana, but I also believe it is important that our position be reinforced through state law," said Senator Turner. "Enacting a statewide statutory ban will ensure there is no ambiguity about the legality of these drugs or the potentially disastrous effects that could result from their use."

Turner's proposal comes after a story in The Times of Trenton detailed a police raid of Wonderland Smoke Shop in Lawrence, during which law enforcement seized 50 pounds of synthetic marijuana valued at nearly $150,000. Mercer County was identified in the story as among the top five counties in New Jersey where abuse of synthetic marijuana has been reported.