|Updated: 11/28/2012 9:23 am
||Published: 11/27/2012 7:13 pm
A Tahlequah smoke shop was raided by officers Tuesday after an undercover operation found the store was selling synthetic marijuana.
A drug taskforce in Cherokee County found the fake pot at Outer Zone, a store FOX23 news first investigated back in October.
The synthetic marijuana is not illegal by itself, because it's sold as incense, potpourri or other things and is labeled "not for human consumption." But it is illegal for stores to sell it as a drug to get high.
Various forms of the synthetic drug have been outlawed in Oklahoma, but manufacturers make slight changes to compounds in the drugs to get around the law.
Stores sell it because of the high profit margin. Officers told FOX23 News that the store will buy a one-gram packet of the fake pot for about $3, and then resell it to customers for up to ten times that much.
As officers were in the store during Tuesday's bust, the store received another shipment. Officers say one weekly shipment costs the store about $14,000, but will net the store as much as $21,000 in profits.
But cops say the drugs are far more dangerous than the people using them realize.
"I know that they make people go crazy," Brittany Ellis, 19, said. "I've seen one guy make snow angels on the concrete and bite into the concrete and bust his front teeth out."
Ellis supports law enforcement's efforts to crack down on synthetic marijuana because she said she's seen the effects of the drugs too many times.
"I've seen people get taken in an ambulance to the hospital after smoking that stuff and going nuts," she said.
Cindy Farmer, Director of the Cherokee County Juvenile Drug Court, said most parents have no idea of the risks.
"I had a 15-year-old who the first time he used it walked out his front door and fell flat to his face in his front yard," Farmer said. "His heart had stopped."
Luckily medics were able to revive him and he survived, but both Ellis and Farmer worry it's only a matter of time before a local kid isn't so lucky.
"Everybody's doing it because it's the thing... like, people can get a high and pass a drug test," Ellis said. "So everybody's doing it."
But even though the fake pot may skirt the law, no health agency oversees its production and those using it have no idea what chemicals are actually causing that high.
"It's truly similar to playing Russian Roulette," Farmer said. "You never know what product is going to have what chemical in it."
In fact, Farmer now thinks real marijuana, the illegal kind, is actually less harmful than the fake, semi-legal drug.
"I hate to say that, I really do," Farmer said. "But I do. I think the synthetic products are far more dangerous than marijuana."
Farmer and Ellis agree that one of the big draws to the synthetic drugs is a belief that they won't be detected in a drug test. But Farmer says that's simply not true, and that several newer drug testing kits will detect chemicals found in synthetic marijuana.
District Attorney Brian Kuester says fighting the problem is a never-ending struggle, since manufacturers are always staying one step ahead of cops.
"The alternative is to throw up our hands and say 'well, we'll never stop it, so let's not fight it,'" he said. "And we're certainly not going to do that."
"I think today is evidence we're gaining ground as we combat this problem."
Farmer and Ellis say that attitude gives them hope.
"It better be gone before my kids get older," Ellis said.
Outer Zone will remain closed for the time being. Officers made no arrests on Tuesday, but expect to make several arrests as they further their investigation.