State and local law enforcement have recently taken on a larger role in seeking out manufacturers and distributors of synthetic drugs.
On July 25, acting in accordance with a provision in federal drug laws, the Drug Enforcement Administration, conducted Operation Logjam, a nationwide action aimed at synthetic drug manufacturers.
Arrests and drug seizures were made in more than 100 locations in the U.S., including Garden City. Scott Collier, a DEA spokesman, who couldn’t comment specifically about the Garden City raid, said the operation was a reaction to what local law enforcement have been reporting.
“The growth of it and some of the outcomes of use,” Collier said. “This flew through the roof.”
Under the federal law, unlike in many states, the DEA can act on any substance that has similar substances as a banned substance, such as cocaine or marijuana, if they can prove it’s being marketed for human consumption. Working with local law enforcement, the DEA built cases showing, despite notices and warnings by businesses that the products were not for ingestion, the stores’ intent was selling the products for the mind-altering properties.
The Kansas Bureau of Investigation, two weeks following the DEA raids, announced its own operation, which netted arrests and seizures in several Kansas cities, including El Dorado, Emporia and Arkansas City.
Collier and local law enforcement say they believe more raids will follow, while lawmakers work to keep up with drug makers.
No one mentions any easy answers, or an expected drop in synthetic drug use.
Kansas Rep. Pat Colloton, R-Leawood, worked on the Kansas legislation and said that crafting laws aimed at synthetic drugs is complicated and time consuming. But it’s a worthwhile fight.
“It’s not hopeless,” she said. But “it’s time to ramp up our effort.”
But police and lawmakers may be missing the larger point and could find themselves spinning their wheels for years trying to keep up with drug makers, said Morgan Fox, spokesman for the Marijuana Policy Network.
His answer? Legalize marijuana.
“These substances have become popular because marijuana is illegal,” said Fox, who emphasized that his organization does not support the use of any untested, synthetic substances. Legalize marijuana and “the market (for synthetic drugs) would drop off.”
Mark Kleiman, a UCLA professor who studies drug policy, also said legalizing marijuana would cut the market for synthetic versions of the drug. But the effects of synthetic drugs might be their downfall.
They “could burn out because people are getting hurt,” Kleiman said.
Just around the corner
Lt. Jim Norton from the Salina Police Department, and several others in law enforcement members interviewed for this article, were not optimistic about the fight against synthetic drugs, predicting a prolonged battle.
As he occasionally does, Norton recently dropped by a Salina convenience store to check for the synthetic drugs that have sold there the past couple of years. Following the recent addition of yet another group of substances to the Kansas banned substance list, the shop should be cleared out of the product, Norton said.
It was, and the glass case that previously sold the drugs has been replaced by contact lenses that turn eyes unusual colors.
Norton flipped his badge and spoke to the owner, who told Norton they’re not carrying any of the smokeable or snortable substances.
Give it a week, Norton said, and there will be a fresh, legal batch in the case.
“Will it ever stop? I don’t know,” Norton said.