I n what’s considered the first case of its kind in Calgary, police have seized synthetic drugs designed to mimic the effects of marijuana. During raids of seven stores Tuesday, police seized 770 packets of merchandise worth an estimated $30,000.
A subsequent raid of a warehouse yielded a further 280 packages, police said.
“Up until recently, this has never been seized in the city,” said Det. Collin Harris of the Calgary police drug unit.
So far, local authorities haven’t laid any criminal charges in connection with the busts, but the Crown prosecutor’s office is weighing the possibility.
Synthetic marijuana is sold under brand names such as Spice, K2, Yucatan Fire, Tribe and Skunk.
Unlike marijuana, which derives its potency from a naturally occurring substance in cannabis plants, the synthetics are a chemical-herbal mix — otherwise legal plant materials infused with manufactured chemical compounds that mimic the effects of tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), marijuana’s active ingredient.
Like marijuana, many of the chemicals used to make the man-made alternative are banned under the Controlled Drug and Substances Act.
Calgary police said investigators began their probe based on information received from the Canada Border Services Agency.
Border officers screening courier shipments coming into the country decided to examine a package sent from the U.S. that arrived in Calgary in mid-September.
The 14-kilogram parcel was labelled “incense,” and the customs declaration said it was worth $2,400.
“It was simply an officer’s good work that allowed us to intercept the shipment,” said Rick Cuzzetto, manager of criminal investigations for CBSA in Calgary.
Synthetic marijuana products had been legal in parts of the U.S., but last November the Drug Enforcement Administration imposed a temporary ban on their possession and sale, as well as five chemical compounds used to make them.
The U.S. is mandated for at least one year, to give authorities time to study the effects of synthetic marijuana products.
While Canadian authorities have made 50 seizures of synthetic marijuana across the country since 2008, police said this is the first known case of its kind in the Prairies.
During the investigation, undercover officers gathered evidence against local retailers selling the drug by buying it at several locations.
A one-gram packet typically retailed for $30 and could yield between 10 and 20 doses depending on a user’s tolerance, Harris said.
City police raided three Bongs & Such stores, three Smoker’s Corner locations and Grass Roots at 112 10th St. N.W.
Employees at stores visited by the Herald refused comment — though one retailer remarked their establishment wouldn’t have sold it if they knew it was illegal.
Some of the synthetic products are labelled “not for human consumption,” and Harris said some sellers may have been under the mistaken impression that protected them from any legal jeopardy.
“One of the terms I’ve heard from the Crown prosecutor’s office is ‘willful blindness,’” Harris said.
But in some instances, store staffers allegedly gave undercover officers advice on how to smoke or consume the drug, added Harris.