Agents with the Cherokee Multi-Agency Narcotics Squad and officers from the Canton, Woodstock, Holly Springs and Ball Ground police departments confiscated the materials Tuesday from stores throughout the county where it is known to be sold.
Agents recovered about 6,200 packages of synthetic marijuana at HY Novelties in Canton, more than 2,200 from Smoke 911 in Woodstock and about 600 from a store in Ball Ground and 400 from a store in Holly Springs, Lt. Jay Baker with the Cherokee County Sheriff’s Office said.
Baker said the order from the state agency that went into effect Monday declared the synthetic drug made of plant material and sprayed with chemicals that mimic the active ingredient in marijuana a Schedule 1 controlled substance.
“The order had the effect of making these products contraband under the law,” Baker said.
Local agencies waited to act until the next day, when Georgia Attorney General Sam Olens and the Georgia Bureau of Investigation established a statewide strategy to remove the items, Baker said.
He said the removal was a regulatory action so no arrests were made.
“If the items recovered from the stores, once tested by the (Georgia Bureau of Investigation) Crime Lab, turn out to be illegal under existing Georgia law, the store managers will be charged with felony possession of a Schedule 1 controlled substance,” Baker said.
The emergency measure comes just one week after the GBI confirmed the drowning death of a Fayette County teen was caused by the use of synthetic marijuana. The 16-year-old’s death was the first time the drug has been officially linked to a fatality in Georgia.
At the request of Gov. Nathan Deal, the Georgia State Board of Pharmacy has adopted an emergency rule classifying newly discovered compounds of synthetic marijuana as controlled substances. The rule allows police to seize the new forms, but it does not provide for arrest.
The Georgia General Assembly has twice banned forms of synthetic marijuana, but manufacturers keep changing the molecular structure to circumvent the law. The Georgia Bureau of Investigation recently identified new versions, which were addressed by the new pharmacy rule.
On March 27, Deal signed Senate Bill 970 that made synthetic marijuana and other similar substances illegal to sell in Georgia.
Senate Majority Leader Chip Rogers (R-Woodstock) was the only Georgia senator to vote against the bill on first vote and was excused when the measure was voted on a second time during this year’s legislative session.
However, manufacturers immediately began to produce products using different substances to skirt the new law.
“A new family of potentially deadly substances have been on sale legally since April 2012,” Baker said. “This emergency action by the Georgia Board of Pharmacy is a stop-gap measure that will provide some protection until the legislature returns to regular session in January of 2013.”
C-MANS Commander Phil Price said in a release the products were “highly lucrative” and the process to block them legally is “slow and methodical.”
“There’s a huge economic incentive for vendors — they can buy it for less than $5 a pack and sell them in the $40 to $50 range,” Price said Wednesday. “We’re now able to take that financial incentive away.”
He credited Director Richard Allen of the Georgia Drug and Narcotics Agency for finding a way to combat the issue.
“This outside-the-box thinking is the perfect way to address the rapidly evolving industry,” Price said in the release.
Price said Wednesday that he appreciates that officials can get the product off the street, even though possessing the product is still not a crime.
He said his office has seen a number of cases where children have been put in dangerous circumstances either by using the drug or being under their parents’ care while their guardian was on the drug.
“These are really, really bad products,” Price said. “I think the mere fact that they were commercially available made parents and kids believe they were OK.”
Baker said C-MANS, along with the GBI and the Georgia Attorney General’s office, have committed to working within the law to keep the products out of the hands of children and teenagers in the community.
Price said citizens with knowledge of vendors selling synthetic materials should report it to officials immediately. Citizens may call in tips anonymously to (770) 345-7920, or speak to an agent by calling (770) 704-2350.