State law will help address synthetic drugs - WOWK 13 Charleston, Huntington WV News, Weather, Sports

State law will help address synthetic drugs

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New laws dealing with synthetic marijuana will go into effect in West Virginia in June, but for now Morgantown Police Department Chief Ed Preston said he’s glad he was able to work with federal authorities to address alleged problem spots in his community.

Authorities raided two Morgantown businesses — X-Hale Hooka, 218 Walnut St., and Mid-Nite Adult, 275 Spruce St. — on April 29, and have already filed civil complaints seeking forfeiture of assets related to the alleged drug operations as well as their business licenses.

Those complaints peg profits from the alleged sale of synthetic cannabinoids over the past 20 months at the two locations to be in excess of $4 million.

“We’ve been working on this case for quite a while,” Preston said. “One of the issues we were faced with is West Virginia didn’t have a comprehensive synthetic hallucinogen law. Our local legislative delegation sponsored a bill ... which has since passed.

“It closes a lot of the loopholes that some of these businesses are using to operate in the state, but it won’t take effect until June, so we continued on with our investigation under federal guidelines.”

Synthetic marijuana, also known as synthetic cannabinoids, uses herbs sprayed with chemicals. While it’s supposed to mimic the elevated mood, relaxation and altered perception people get from smoking regular marijuana, no one can be sure what chemical was sprayed on the herbs much less how much of it was applied. That makes it “unpredictably dangerous,” with side effects ranging from a rapid heart rate, vomiting, agitation, kidney failure, seizures and confusion to high blood pressure and a reduced supply of blood to the heart. It can cause psychotic breaks, heart attacks and even death.

“It’s a public health crisis,” Preston said. “People are overdosing, and medical personnel don’t know how to treat them because they don’t know what they ingested. Many of the chemicals they’re using haven’t been tested and haven’t been reviewed. People think they’re consuming something similar to marijuana, but the effects vary all over the board.

“It’s hard to predict what’s in it and they don’t know how much is in it. People are overdosing on just one time.”

In Texas, authorities say some 120 people overdosed on K2, a popular brand of synthetic marijuana, over just a five-day period.

Documentation filed in support of the forfeiture petitions alleges that in July, Morgantown police responded to a call in downtown Morgantown involving an individual “reported to have ingested a package of synthetic cannabinoids,” K Herbal Incense, before losing consciousness.

“The problem in Morgantown is Pennsylvania passed laws to control it in their state,” Delegate Cindy Frich, R-Monongalia, said. “These are herbs sprayed with chemicals — as soon as the DEA outlaws the chemicals being used, drug pushers change the chemical composition to make it legal again.”

Frich, a member of the House Judiciary Committee, said synthetic marijuana “is not like regular marijuana.”

“Synthetic marijuana can cause a psychotic break in anyone, it can cause heart attacks in anyone,” she said. “It’s just very dangerous. And they package it in attractive little packages with cute names,” which lulls users into thinking it’s risk-free.

“It scares me,” she added. “Anything that can cause a psychotic break concerns me. I don’t want to see young people throwing their lives away.”

The forfeiture petition filed against the owners of X-Hale Hookah suggests the business was under scrutiny as long ago as the summer of 2012. In it, the government alleges a clerk sold two undercover officers K Herbal Incense, a suspected synthetic marijuana, in late July 2012, and Kryptonic in February 2013. Undercover officers allegedly purchased another suspected synthetic cannabinoid, Skunk, as recently as April 21.

The document also said Marion County sheriff’s deputies found a pound of synthetic cannabinoids in a car during a traffic stop April 10. A passenger in that vehicle is cooperating with the investigation, the civil complaint stated.

Likewise, the forfeiture complaint against Mid-Nite Adult said police as early as July 2012 were investigating reports the shop was selling synthetic cannabinoids, with undercover officers allegedly buying suspected synthetic cannabinoids packaged as K3 XXX Bomb, Mr. Kush, Bizzaro, Funky Monkey, Dead Man, Sonic Zero, AK47 Blue Moon, Purple Haze, Twilite, Johnny A., Diesel and Scooby Snax from clerks there.

Substances purchased at both locations have been submitted to the DEA’s Mid-Atlantic Laboratory for analysis, U.S. Attorney William Ihlenfeld II has said.

The government alleges Mid-Nite Adult generated more than $3 million during a 20-month period from the sale of synthetic marijuana and X-Hale, just over $1 million. The owners of X-Hale allegedly used proceeds from the sale of synthetic cannabinoids to purchase automobiles, including a 2011 BMW 7501 with a near $100,000 price tag, the complaint stated.