|Updated: 3/05/2013 10:06 am
||Published: 3/04/2013 8:52 pm
Three Green Country stores have been busted, accused of selling synthetic marijuana, incense and herbs laced with chemicals to mimic the effects of pot.
One of the stores was a Shell Station in Wagoner. Another was a head shop called Blasters located near the Northeastern State University campus in Tahlequah. The third store was a head shop called the Outer Zone, also in Tahlequah, that was also busted back in November for selling synthetic marijuana.
While the Outer Zone was closed down Monday, with a sign on the door saying it was closed until further notice, many in Tahlequah were questioning how the business was able to continue operating after the first bust.
Both busts were part of an ongoing investigation across the area, but the owners of the Outer Zone have yet to be convicted of any crimes. Therefore, there was no legal reason the store couldn't continue operating, although sale of the synthetic marijuana for the purpose of being smoked is not legal.
Blasters, meanwhile, remained open for business on Monday. FOX23 News tried to ask the clerk about the bust and sale of fake pot, but he declined to answer any questions.
However, a woman who asked not to be identified, gave FOX23 News an audio recording of her teenage son going inside Blasters weeks before the bust and asking for "pope," a common street name for synthetic pot.
While the clerk's voice is difficult to hear in the recording, one can hear him tell the teen which incense could be smoked, even though none of them could be smoked legally.
"All of the, like, actually smokable herb organics, all that stuff, is all right there," the clerk told him. And those are different herbs. It's all from an herbal blend."
Outside the Outer Zone Monday afternoon, Sabra Dudley and her friend Jessika Hart told FOX23 News they weren't surprised that store had been busted again.
"People go in there all the time, in and out," Dudley said. "There's more traffic here than there is at Walmart."
While Dudley said she never buys "spice," another common street name for synthetic marijuana, she said she had inadvertently learned the consequences of trying the drug.
"Not knowing," she said. "We thought it was a cigar, and it was something really different."
"It made me freak out."
Hart said she had the same reaction to it. Dudley said she even thought about going to the hospital while under its influence.
Because of the dangerous adverse medical reaction to the drug increasingly reported at hospitals across the state, lawmakers have tried to ban the substance in Oklahoma.
They have successfully outlawed 132 of the chemical compounds found in the products. But manufacturers based out of state continue to find ways to alter the chemistry of their products just enough to skirt the law and continue selling.
This year, the state legislature is trying to close loopholes by including in the law language that would make any variation of those 132 chemical compounds also illegal.
But Cindy Farmer, who oversees Cherokee County's Juvenile Drug Court, says state lawmakers just aren't keeping up with the manufacturers.
"Legislation isn't written effectively to deal with this," Farmer said. "We are more or less playing a shell game with the manufacturers of these products."
Through her role with the drug court, Farmer has seen firsthand the damage synthetic marijuana is doing to teens and adults. She said from the medical emergencies it's causing, reports of domestic abuse and child abuse have risen steadily, on pace with the growth of synthetic marijuana use.
For the past three years Farmer has been on a mission to tackle the problem at a local level with help from the city council, rather than waiting on state government to figure out a solution.
"I've gone to [the city council] before for an ordinance to ban the sale of the product within the city limits," she said. "Our city attorney contends that we cannot do that because of the [attorney general's] opinion on pseudoephedrine."
But Monday night she planned to return to the council with a different plan.
"Tonight I'm going to ask them to consider deeming these businesses that are selling the product a nuisance."
And state law, she said, supports her idea.
"Once a business has been convicted under the controlled Substance Act of selling illegal drugs, then it becomes known as a public nuisance. I mean, our state statutes say that."
Unfortunately, she said, businesses like Blasters and Outer Zone will continue to operate and selling the products until they are convicted or shut down because of how much money there is to be made.
Investigators on the first bust at Outer Zone told FOX23 News that Outer Zone gets at least box of synthetic marijuana in every week, which it purchases for about $14,000. Within a matter of days, the store can sell out of the entire shipment for a profit of $21,000.