Smoke shops targeted during 'Project Synergy'
Synthetic drugs are gradually being removed from shelves through increased enforcement and new legislation.
On Thursday, Rutherford County Sheriff's Office Narcotics Agents, in a joint effort with the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) and Forest City, Spindale and Rutherfordton Police departments, participated in a nationwide synthetic drug sweep called "Project Synergy."
Law enforcement officers conducted visits to local "smoke shops" located in Rutherford County including Puff & Stuff and Ace Scooters in Forest City, Urban Smoke and Dream Peaces in Spindale and The Smoke Shop in Rutherfordton.
The businesses forfeited a combined total of 1,926 packets of synthetic marijuana and $20,149 in U.S. Currency from the sales of synthetic marijuana.
"It's very important to note that the recent legal selling of synthetic marijuana has not made it any healthier for those who take it," said Rutherford County Sheriff Chris Francis.
"Project Synergy" began in December 2012 and targets designer synthetic drug selling and trafficking organizations that operate without regard for the law or public safety.
The enforcement operation involved DEA raids targeting retailers, wholesalers and manufacturers with agents uncovering massive flows of drug-related proceeds back to countries in the Middle East and elsewhere.
On Wednesday, law enforcement executed more than 150 arrest warrants and nearly 375 search warrants in 35 states, 49 cities and five countries.
Of those arrested during the crackdown was 27-year-old Jessica Weast of Ellenboro, who faces charges of conspiracy to possess and distribute synthetic drugs.
Weast is a former employee of Gaffney, S.C. residents Steven Petty, 42, and his wife Patty, 39, owners of Carousel Music in Gaffney and Smokers Edge in Shelby.
DEA agents searched the Pettys' two smoke shops as well as their home on Wednesday.
Agents seized nearly $1.4 million from the Pettys, including $800,000 in cash from their residence.
The Pettys are being charged with operating stores that sold synthetic drugs and if convicted, they and Weast each face a maximum of 20 years in prison and a $1 million fine.
N.C. House Bill 813
On Thursday, Rutherford County law enforcement informed the five smoke shop owners of North Carolina's current law concerning synthetic cannabinoids and N.C. House Bill 813, an act to make the manufacture, possession, sale, use and delivery of all synthetic cannabinoids unlawful.
The bill identifies synthetic cannabinoids as "any quantity of any synthetic chemical compound that is a cannabinoidagonist and mimics the pharmacological effect of naturally occurring substances or has a stimulant, depressant or hallucinogenic effect on the central nervous system." receptor
"This is a much-needed law. Synthetic drugs are extremely dangerous and we appreciate our legislators enacting a law that could help us protect the citizens of our county and the state," Francis said.
According to law enforcement and agency officials, many of the designer drugs being marketed today that were seized as part of "Project Synergy" are not specifically prohibited in previous legislation like the Controlled Substances Act, a federal U.S. drug policy under which the manufacture, importation, possession, use and distribution of certain substances is regulated.
And while the Controlled Substance Analogue Enforcement Act of 1986 allows many of these drugs to be treated as controlled substances, this is only if they are proven to be chemically and/or pharmacologically similar to a Schedule I or Schedule II controlled substance.
Legislation in 2009 and 2010 targeted specific versions of the synthetic drugs, and in 2011 and 2012 legislation aimed to prevent new formulations of synthetic drugs from remaining unregulated by addressing entire classes of substances.
"Laws in the past, like those in 2011 and 2012, were unsuccessful and ineffective," Francis said. "Those laws have addressed the chemical compounds in synthetic drugs, but the chemists who are making these drugs change the compounds to those not listed as illegal or banned under the law."
N.C. House Bill 813 is different because it not only looks at the chemical compounds in drugs, but also addresses the harmful effects of these synthetic drugs.
"I am hoping this bill will be what we need," Francis said. "I have high hopes that this 2013 law will be effective and it will work against those that are trying to make money at the harmful measures of others."
The act becomes effective July 1, 2013 and applies to offenses committed on or after that date.
"Once this law goes into effect, we will still continue to work with the local police chiefs, narcotics officers from each police department and the Rutherford County Sheriff's Office Narcotics Unit to combat this problem," Francis said. "A lot of these stores sell other items besides synthetic marijuana, so if you see them open it doesn't necessarily mean that they're selling the illegal product. But if they're selling it out of the back door of stores, we will be diligent in combating that to ensure they're abiding by the law."