Law enforcement agencies crack down on synthetic drug sales

Wednesday, September 7, 2011 at 6:17pm

Law enforcement agencies Wednesday executed multiple search warrants in an effort to crack down on the retail sale of synthetic drugs in mid-state convenience stores.

The Tennessee Bureau of Investigation, along with federal, state and local law enforcement agencies, seized products sold at the stores, marketed under the guise of incense, plant food or bath salts. Police said the synthetic products, banned early this year, mimic the effects of marijuana or methamphetamine, but are potentially very dangerous.

According to TBI officials, 36 search warrants were executed, while more than 23,000 packets of synthetic drugs and $44,500 were seized, as of late Wednesday afternoon.

At the request of the 16th Judicial District Attorney General’s Office, the TBI and the Tennessee Attorney General’s Office launched the investigation, dubbed “Operation Synful Smoke.” According to a TBI release, undercover agents made about 150 visits to more than 60 Rutherford County convenience stores between June and August, and were able to purchase the synthetic drugs, banned earlier this year. 

Meanwhile in Davidson County, members of Metro’s Specialized Investigations Division conducted warrant raids on two locations in conjunction with the investigation.

Around noon Wednesday, officers seized some inventory of FAB Wholesale at 609 Lafayette St. There, officers loaded up a box truck with plastic tubs full of synthetic cannabinoid products, labeled as incense and bearing names such as Phoenix Fire, Barely Legal, Green Ghost, etc.

Police Spokesman Don Aaron said no one at the location had been arrested, though two men police identified as the owners — Mohan Thawardas and Jagdish Dadlani — along with a manager and three other employees received state misdemeanor citations for possession of a controlled substance.

A short time later, Metro officers also executed a similar search warrant at the “Smoke for Less” store 1105 North Gallatin Pike. There was no immediate word on arrests or citations issued there.

The TBI claims those who use synthetic cannabinoids smoke the product to experience an effect similar to that of smoking marijuana. Synthetic methcathinone is a stimulant sold in powder, liquid and crystal forms marketed as plant food, insect repellant, pond cleaner and vacuum freshener. Users typically ingest, inhale, inject or smoke the product to experience an effect similar to that caused by amphetamines.

TBI Director Mark Gwyn was quoted in a statement as saying the following: “The warning labels that read ‘Not for Human Consumption’ are simply a ploy to try and get around the law. That will not work in Tennessee. As is evident with today’s search warrants, if business owners sell the drugs, law enforcement will seize the drugs.”

Tennessee Attorney General Bob Cooper stated in the release that his office, in particular its Law Enforcement and Special Prosecutions Division, would work closely with local law enforcement, the district attorney and the TBI to identify those who sell the illegal synthetic substances.

The investigation and execution of the search warrants involved the Tennessee Attorney General’s Office, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration Office of Criminal Investigations, the Metro Nashville Police Department, the Murfreesboro Police Department, the Rutherford County Sheriff’s Office, the Smyrna Police Department and the La Vergne Police Department.

No arrests have been made as the investigation is still ongoing. Upon the conclusion of the investigation, TBI will turn the case and its evidence over to the 16th Judicial District Attorney General’s Office for prosecution.