Ill. AG launches synthetic drug crackdown

Bryan Cohen Jan. 16, 2012, 1:46pm


CHICAGO (Legal Newsline) - Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan announced the results of three undercover operations that confiscated nearly 2,000 packages of synthetic marijuana with a street value of approximately $40,000 from stores throughout the state.

Madigan's office explained the operations with prosecutors and local law enforcement officials on Friday in a series of presentations addressing the state's work to stop young people from using synthetic drugs. The substances are akin to cocaine and marijuana and can be found for sales at gas stations, tobacco shops and convenience stores across the state.

"We are only at the beginning of this battle to protect young people from these deadly products," Madigan said. "In order to ensure a strong, effective response to these drugs, law enforcement officials and prosecutors in every county of Illinois need to be empowered with information and other resources to fight this emerging epidemic."

Madigan's office partnered with Vermillion County Sheriff Patrick Hartshorn, Bond County Sheriff Jeff Brown and Adams County Sheriff Brent Fischer to conduct three store sweeps in their respective counties in late December. These undercover visits were meant to determine if retailers were selling banned synthetic marijuana products. The Illinois State Police lab tested for the presence of Schedule 1 substances or their analogues in the products purchased. The results led to the confiscation of 1,956 packages with a street value of $41,628.

"Operation Smoke Out" secured 534 packages from 60's Spirit in Adams County and 375 and 53 packages respectively from Leisure Lounge and Marathon in Bond County. The operation secured packages from four stores in Vermillion County, including 378 packages from BP Gas, 17 packages from another BP Gas, 108 packages from Hoopston Convenient Mart and 491 packages from DP Dixit Pit Stop.

Illinois first responded to the increase of synthetic drug use by passing laws banning specific formulas of bath salts and synthetic marijuana. Makers of the drugs attempted to get around the laws by replacing the banned chemicals with new formulas. A new state law that went into effect on January 1 bans all chemicals that are derived structurally from chemicals that were previously banned.

Madigan's office has developed a new legal notice that is designed to inform retailers about the amendments and to warn them that it is a felony to sell products containing banned substances. Madigan's office is working in conjunction with local law enforcement to distribute the notice to retailers to make sure that they know that despite the packaging, these products probably contain banned substances. Friday's announcements are a part of Madigan's efforts to address the growing trend responsible for multiple injuries and deaths in the state and throughout the country.

According to the Poison Control Centers throughout the country, synthetic drug abuse is increasing, with a recent dramatic rise in calls related to bath salts and marijuana. Bath salts contain a synthetic drug that includes chemical compounds that can mimic the effects of methamphetamine or cocaine. In 2010, the centers received 2,915 calls related to synthetic marijuana use, which jumped to 6,890 calls in 2011. There were 6,072 calls about bath salts in 2011, up from 303 calls in 2010.

The increase of synthetic drug use poses a challenge to law enforcement and prosecutors. Manufacturers can change the chemical makeup of the drugs to avoid prosecution under the Illinois Controlled Substances Act and often make representations on the packaging of the drugs that the products do not contain banned ingredients.

Even if the packages of the drugs contain representations that the products are not intended for human consumption, the labeling, design and marketing suggest that the products can be ingested. These drugs are quite dangerous because they can contain a wide range of chemical potencies and formulations, some of which can be two to 500 times stronger than THC, the key psychoactive component in cannabis.

Madigan hosted the first ever statewide emergency summit in November to help to increase the awareness of the use of synthetic drugs among state, country and local law enforcement officers in addition to educators, health care professionals and parents.

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