‘Operation Log Jam’ offers glimpse of synthetic pot economy


The Brownsville Herald

The Rio Grande Valley figured prominently in the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration’s “Operation Log Jam” that led to smoke shop raids and the 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, 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 marijuana — 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.

 

UNDERCOVER EYES

When undercover DEA special agents visited Valley smoke shops before the raids, 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.

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