The Rio Grande Valley figured prominently in the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration’s “Operation Log Jam” that led to the raid of least 26 smoke shops and seizure of synthetic drugs — from South Padre Island to Mission and points in between, federal records show.
DEA agents assisted by federal, state and local officers raided the shops in Texas and throughout the country Wednesday and Thursday, leading to the arrest of 90 people nationwide, seizure of more than $36 million in cash and a wide array of synthetic drugs that the DEA said are often marketed as bath salts, Spice, incense or plant food.
The smokable synthetic cannabinoids, which may be known on the street as Spice, Kush or K2 and may be marketed as herbal incense, potpourri or fake weed, almost always carry the label “not for human consumption.” The purpose of the label is to circumvent the law, according to DEA.
Search warrants issued in the Brownsville Division of the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Texas involved 13 businesses. Applications to search 13 businesses in the McAllen Division also were filed in the federal court. Official documents indicate that some search warrants issued in McAllen might have been executed and returned, but these are apparently sealed.
The businesses named in documents filed in Brownsville were seven Pokey’s Planet locations in Harlingen, Weslaco, Edinburg, San Benito and Brownsville; two Green Dragon sites in Brownsville; Cloud 9 in South Padre Island; Dark Secrets in Brownsville; Eight Eighty in Harlingen; and 420 Smoke Shop in San Benito.
Court records show that applications for search warrants filed in McAllen were for Up in Smoke in McAllen; POW-WOW in McAllen; Puff N Stuff in McAllen; Smokies in McAllen; two Free Spirits shops in McAllen and Pharr; Magicos in Pharr; two Hippies shops in Edinburg and Mission; two Peace Pipe shops in McAllen and Mission; Amsterdam in Weslaco; and High Rollers in Mission.
Court documents indicate that slightly more than 7,000 packages of what officers believe contain synthetic drugs among other items were seized from the businesses in the search warrants requested in Brownsville.
The documents say that officers seized 3,376 packets from Pokey’s Planet in Harlingen, including 503 packets of Ace King, 255 packets of Scooby Snax, 248 packets of Kush, 48 of Diablo, 117 of Mad Hatter, 147 of Atomic Bomb, 207 of Black Diamond, 75 of House Blend, 72 of Purple Sticky Salvia, 201 of 777, 260 of Day Light, 149 packages of Up Cakes Brownies, and 43 packages of Mary J’s Brownies. A folder containing lab analyses for synthetic cannabinoids also was found.
The court record indicates that 2,197 packets were seized from the 420 shop in San Benito, including 611 packages of Kush, 50 of Dead Man Walking, 190 of Scooby Snacks, 173 of Mad Hatter, 177 of Down 2 Earth Climaxxx, 86 of Caution, 70 of Nightmare Revisited, and 97 packets of OMG.
Officers seized 560 packets from Pokey’s Planet in Edinburg, including 115 of Ace King, and 73 packets of Kush, court documents show.
They also seized 425 packets from Eight Eighty in Harlingen, including 152 packets of Kush, four binders with miscellaneous paper work, a large number of inventory ledgers and miscellaneous papers inside an office depot box.
At Cloud 9 in South Padre Island, officers seized numerous items, including a magazine for ordering synthetic cannabinoids. A pack of papers containing ordering information and distributors was found at a Green Dragon shop in Brownsville while 59 packets of Devils Advocate, Comfortably Numb, Fallen Angel and other items were found at a second Green Dragon location, the court documents say. A bag of marijuana and a grinder were found at the second shop, the court information says.
At the Dark Secrets shop in Brownsville, officers located an invoice for synthetic cannabinoids ordered from the shop, according to the court record.
Details of seizures from the search applications that the DEA filed in McAllen were not immediately available.
Earlier, when DEA special agents visited smoke shops in the Rio Grande Valley in an undercover capacity, employees of some of the businesses talked openly, offering insight into the synthetic drug industry, the court record reflects.
The court documents say that during the undercover purchases, the agents also purchased rolling papers, which are commonly used to smoke the products. The agents indicated to the sellers that they wanted the products for smoking, according to court records.
The applications for the search warrants filed in Brownsville noted that undercover purchases had been made of suspected artificial marijuana.
More detail was provided in the applications that were filed in McAllen for the search warrants.
According to federal court records:
>Two special agents visited the Up in Smoke shop in McAllen on July 13, conversing with an employee who shared that people buy from four to five bags of Kush, Mad Hatter or another brand at a time and that there is one customer who asks for one of each brand that is available. In the court documentation, one of the agents noted that a sales tax was not charged and that the employee wrote what was sold on a ledger next to the cash register. The employee also complained that the shop did not have blunts, or papers and that he was tired of telling people that they didn’t have inventory. The employee also said that he usually had $350 worth of synthetic cannabis in the display.
>At Puff N Stuff in McAllen, an employee told two special agents that most of the products were half priced and that they would become illegal on Oct. 1. The employee said all the products tasted like wood to him. As the agents left, the employee went to one of the agents and said that if they saw each other more often, he could work something out when the product became illegal.
>At Smokies in McAllen, special agents were told that the best way to smoke the products is with a pipe, because the products are too strong when smoked with regular zig zag rolling papers. The employee said he had heard stories about people coughing up blood from smoking the products.
>On July 13, an agent visited the POW-POW shop in McAllen and saw numerous packages of synthetic cannabinoids in a clear casing on a countertop. The agent returned with another agent on July 16 and asked where the packages were. The employee said he had placed the clear casing behind the counter in order to tell the DEA, if they entered the store, that he was not selling the “stuff.” The employee told the agents the DEA had been inquiring about the synthetic marijuana at other smoke shops on 10th Street. The agents purchased two brands of suspected artificial marijuana.
>On July 19, a special agent went to Hippies in Mission and asked for Mad Hatter. The employee provided a packet of Mad Hatter Cloud 9 and emptied its contents. “The employee then sprayed what the employee referred to as ‘hypnotic spray’ on the Mad Hatter Cloud 9 contents,” the federal court papers state. An explanation of what the hypnotic spray might or not contain is not noted in the warrant application.
The applications for the search warrants stated that the synthetic drugs are a mixture of an organic medium, such as the herb-like substance Damiana, which is then sprayed or mixed with a synthetic compound chemically similar to Tetrahydrocannabinol — the psychoactive ingredient in marijuana.