The Register-Herald, Beckley, West Virginia

Local News

February 18, 2012

Police: Synthetic marijuana a problem

Head Trip, Chronic Jet Blaster, Spice, and K-2 — Fayette County law enforcement officials aren’t quite sure yet what’s in all these brands of “synthetic marijuana,” but they say it’s an increasing problem in the local community.

After a local high school youth experienced a “serious adverse reaction” to the substance Thursday, the Fayette County Sheriff’s Department seized $2,000 worth from Co-Mac stores in Fayetteville and Oak Hill. After emergency medical treatment, the youth recovered.

“Make no mistake about it — this synthetic marijuana is a dangerous drug,” said Fayette County Sheriff Steve Kessler. “It may have been created in a laboratory, and it might be repackaged and marketed as ‘incense’ and ‘not for human consumption,’ but the manufacturers, distributors and retailers are well aware that this drug contains dangerous chemicals and should not be sold to anyone, much less underage children.”

Retailers are not required to check the ID of those who purchase the substance, making it easy for young people to get their hands on it.

No criminal charges have been filed against the retailers, but the sheriff hadn’t ruled it out. He said a report will be submitted to the prosecuting attorney for review.

A release from the sheriff’s office says an increasing number of complaints have come in about the issue over the past few months.

All the products, they say, are distributed by the same manufacturer and are derived from Salvia, which was previously listed as a controlled substance and banned by the West Virginia Legislature.

“Certifications” provided by the distributor claim the substance has been tested and does not contain anything illegal, but when the West Virginia State Police Forensic Laboratory tested the product, they concluded this to be a “false and inaccurate claim.”

Authorities are waiting on further testing, said Kessler.

The synthetic THC goes for about $40 per package and is marked “Not for human consumption.”

However, its display “in close proximity to pipes and bowls commonly associated with the use of marijuana clearly indicates the true intended purpose,” says a statement from the sheriff.

Last year, deputies seized over $10,000 from Stop and Go in Oak Hill.

The retailer agreed not to distribute any more and hasn’t done so since, said the sheriff. But an ongoing investigation of the situation was launched at that point, and the sheriff said some retailers started to carry the product under the counter, rather than out in the open.

“You have to ask for it,” he said. “That tells you right there they know it’s not right to have it.”

Two high school students reportedly used the substance Thursday before boarding their school bus, and investigators obtained search warrants for Co-Mac stores in Fayetteville and Oak Hill.

In addition to seizing 47 packages of the substance, they also took nine sets of digital scales and more than 500 “marijuana pipes/bowls, crack pipes and items of paraphernalia used to facilitate the smoking of synthetic marijuana and crack cocaine,” the press release from the sheriff’s office said.

Existing problems with illegal drugs are bad enough, said Kessler, without this new threat to worry about.

“I’m certainly not naive enough to believe that dangerous street drugs are inaccessible to our children, because they can obtain these drugs fairly easily, but we don’t want to create a situation making illegal and dangerous drugs even more readily available and accessible to our children through the local convenience stores,” said Kessler.

Investigators from the West Virginia State Police Bureau of Criminal Investigation and the Sheriff’s Office Drug Unit will be continuing their investigation into the open sale of the drugs. Anyone with tips can call the sheriff’s office (304-574-4216), the State Police (304-469-2915), or Crime Stoppers (304-255-7867.

— E-mail: cmoore@register-herald.com

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