NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) — A demonstration was held Thursday outside a deli in Brooklyn that has been accused of selling K2, also known as synthetic marijuana.
The demonstration comes after dozens of people were hospitalized after overdosing on the synthetic drug.
The group holding the rally was the DOE fund, which works with men who are formerly homeless and incarcerated, thousands of them with a history of drug use, CBS2’s Andrea Grymes reported.
“I’m here because they take advantage of the most vulnerable people in our society who come in to the facilities we operate,” said Doe Fund founder and president George McDonald.
“We have to educate the public about what this is,” McDonald said. “This is not marijuana, this is not medical marijuana. This is death.”
Protesters chanted “No more K2.”
Residents say the problem in the area has gotten out of control.
“It’s dangerous just getting off the bus,” said Bedford-Stuyvesant resident Candace Thomas. “You get on the train, they’re right there. You can’t go into the store, you can’t go into the Spanish restaurant across the street.”
“You see people not aware, they’re just walking around, basically looking like the ‘Night of the Living Dead,’ like zombies, and stuff like that,” said resident Jason Skyers.
Jeff, a resident, told 1010 WINS’ Glenn Schuck that he frequents Big Boy deli to purchase K2. He admits he’s an addict, but believes police and the public are overreacting.
“I’ve been smoking for the past like two years,” he said. “And I haven’t caught a seizure — nothing health complications has happened to me. I really don’t understand why people are really passing out.”
He later admitted he wishes he could kick the habit.
Investigators descended on five Bedford-Stuyvesant shops Wednesday in the latest show of force to combat the K2 epidemic in New York City.
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But police came up empty, finding none of the synthetic marijuana that’s been plaguing neighborhoods from Brooklyn to the Bronx and in between, CBS2’s Andrea Grymes reported.
“We dropped the ball during the early 80s with the crack epidemic,” said Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams. “We’re not gonna drop the ball now with K2 and heroin finding a new foothold in our communities.”
Adams spoke in Bed-Stuy where more than 30 people slumped over and passed out on the drug were hospitalized on Tuesday.
In the Bronx, emergency responders treated a man who appeared to have also overdosed on Wednesday. The area of Willis Avenue and 149th Street is known as “K2 alley” and business owners are fed up.
“I’ve been here 24 years and I’ve never ever, ever seen it this bad,” said businessman Abel Brea. “Something is going on and I have to believe, have to put the blame on City Hall.”
Mayor Bill de Blasio says the city is going to shut down any store selling K2.
“We can do a lot. I’m very concerned about it and we’re acting on it immediately,” he said. “We will throw the book at anyone selling K2, the NYPD is very focused.”
Police Commissioner Bill Bratton also vowed to go after people and businesses who he said are attempting to poison their customers, CBS2 Political Reporter Marcia Kramer reported.
“We have no intent to let a new epidemic of drug incidents overtake this city,” Police Commissioner Bill Bratton said. “We’re coming after you. We’re coming after you big time.”
New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo has also announced a new statewide initiative aimed at aggressively combating the sale of K2. The move calls for increased patrols and monitoring from the New York State Liquor Authority and Gaming Commission to revoke licenses of establishments found to be selling the drug.
“The evolution of synthetic drugs is an alarming public health risk – but we are on the front lines of the battle,” Governor Cuomo said in a statement Thursday. “The state will continue to identify emerging compounds that put users in danger and aggressively chase down sellers of these toxic substances.”
The synthetic drug is cheap and easy to get.
The NYPD says because K2 recipes change constantly, some ingredients aren’t illegal, so it’s difficult to crack down on the dangerous drug.
“They have no idea what chemicals are in that package or at what concentration,” Assistant Deputy Police Commissioner Ron Messner said.
Police added that synthetic pot is still not included in penal law. It can be illegal under federal law if it is made using a controlled substance.