Synthetic marijuana was seized from two Northeast Philadelphia stores yesterday and today as part of a statewide law-enforcement sweep called “Operation Artificial High.”
“The mother lode” of synthetic marijuana, illegal in Pennsylvania since last August, was found in a smoke shop on the 10000 block of Verree Road this morning, said Deputy Attorney General Kate Gibson. Boxes and boxes of the stuff that retails under such names as Kush, K2, Spice, Herbal Smoke and Cloud Nine were seized.
No one was arrested — yet — Gibson said in a phone interview early Thursday afternoon, but one arrest is likely today.
A gas station at 9100 Frankford Ave. was raided yesterday. Drug paraphernalia was seized there, Gibson said. Investigators had been making buys from a clerk at that location since May, she said, adding that the man even went to Grant Avenue and Academy Road to make deliveries of synthetic marijuana to state agents.
Five other locations in Philadelphia — all of them along South Street — were hit by narcotics agents and state troopers yesterday and today, Gibson said.
More than 50 search warrants were executed statewide during the crackdown on trafficking and sale of synthetic drugs, resulting in the seizure of more than 300,000 individual doses of synthetic marijuana and illegal bath salts with an estimated street value of $1.25 million.
More than 50,000 pieces of drug paraphernalia related to smoking or consuming synthetic drugs were seized along with about $250,000 in cash and assets, the attorney general’s office said.
Gibson believes that the Verree Road store might have been supplying the South Street locations.
Search warrants were served in residences, convenience stores, gas stations, smoke shops and similar businesses in the city and in Allegheny, Lehigh, Luzerne, Montgomery, Northampton, Washington and Westmoreland counties, according to a news release from Attorney General Linda Kelly and State Police Commissioner Frank Noonan.
“These man-made chemicals have triggered a wave of bizarre and violent reactions, medical emergencies and deaths across the country since they began appearing on the street in 2009,” Kelly said.
Agents and troopers made a series of undercover purchases, recorded transactions and surveillance to identify many of the people and businesses allegedly involved in the distribution and sale of the illegal synthetic drugs.
“These substances were prohibited because they are a threat to the health and safety of our communities,” Kelly said. “This ban cannot be skirted by rebranding these hazardous drugs as ‘window cleaner,’ ‘plant food,’ ‘incense,’ ‘not for human consumption’ or by moving them behind the counter.”
In Philadelphia, the Attorney General’s Bureau of Narcotic Investigation and Drug Strike Force programs, the state police, Philadelphia police and the Philadelphia district attorney’s office were among the agencies involved in the operation.