Tampa, Florida — Six warehouses in Hillsborough County were raided Wednesday during a nationwide sweep of synthetic “spice” marijuana labs.
At a warehouse space on 12th Avenue East near Ybor, the sweet, fruity smell still lingers in the air this morning.
Federal and local agents say they seized millions of dollars worth of the product and cash.
“We’ve obviously got thousands and thousands of pounds of product here. We’re gonna have large sums of currency as well,” said Hillsborough County Sheriff David Gee, whose agency assisted in the raid.
Sheriff Gee says the raw product would be shipped into the area and then it would be prepared, packaged and shipped from the Tampa warehouses.
“There’s so much volume, we loaded up truck after truck and truck of evidence and I think when that comes to light, you’ll see that millions of dollars changed hands in this trade,” said Capt. Kyle Cockreamer, with the Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office’s Special Investigations Division.
Some of the product sold went by the names ‘Scooby Snax’ or ‘OMG’ showing cartoon characters clearly marketed to a younger generation.
Capt. Cockreamer says they conducted a survey of area hospitals in a four county area and found that more than 100 people went to the ER after smoking K-2 or Spice.
He says 57% of those patients were between 14 and 20 years old.
“A 3-month-old, for example, we have on record for going to the hospital for second hand smoke,” said Capt. Cockreamer.
The feds targeted 66 cities across the country on Tuesday. Agents had to wear Hazmat suits as they cleared out the warehouses due to the overwhelming smell of chemicals. Several barrels of acetone were also removed from the building.
One man who works in the area of one of the targeted warehouses says he knew something was going on. He didn’t want to be identified, but tells 10 News he would often smell a fruity, chemical type smell in the air, especially on very hot days.
He also says he saw the men spraying down the green plants with chemicals like acetone and formaldehyde.
“We don’t know what’s in the stuff,” said Sheriff Gee.
Investigators also seized 55 gallon barrels of 200-proof ethanol which is sprayed on the green leafy material called damiana to bind the chemical cocktail to the plant. A small spark could have sent the buildings up in flames.
Forty-seven people were working in the warehouses. Federal agents have their names and took testimony for the possible use in future prosecution.
The raids come in the weeks after a new federal law expands the ban on the chemicals considered illegal to use. Manufacturers would often get around the law by changing the chemical formulas.
“We are confident that a lot of chemicals we found at these search warrants that were served are going to be included in a list of banned substances,” said Capt. Cockreamer.
The Poison Control Center reports nearly 7,000 calls related to synthetic marijuana last year according to the DEA. That’s up from 2,906 calls in 2010.
Synthetic marijuana is also being blamed for the death of a 19 year old from Minnesota.
The DEA will hold its news conference with the national total of seizures at 1:30 p.m.
Hillsborough County search warrant locations:
Wild Incense Distribution Warehouse-4401 E 10th Ave,Tampa
Wild Incense Manufacturing Facility-4101 E. 12th Ave, Tampa
Stop Smoke Shop (Retail Distributor)-10821 N. 56th Street, Tampa
Private Residence-15708 Gulf Blvd, Redington Beach FL
Jonny Clearwater Manufacturing-10134 Fisher Ave, Suite A-2 Brandon FL
Warehouse-6308 Benjamin Road Suite #710, Tampa