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Cops raid Orange head shop in NY crackdown on synthetic drugs

A trooper stands in a Rochester head shop,

A trooper stands in a Rochester head shop, holding a bag of synthetic marijuana seized during a coordinated, statewide raid. Police seized $150,000 worth of synthetic drugs and $16,000 in cash during the raids, which included a search of a smoke shop in Port Jervis. Police made no seizures from the Port Jervis shop. (Feb. 1, 2013) Photo Credit: New York State Police

Clyde Beach said he doesn't harbor resentment against cops for showing up at his smoke shop unannounced Thursday and "running through my place of business with a fine-tooth comb."

Beach owns Jamaica Junction, a gift and smoke shop in Port Jervis that was among nine stores raided Thursday in a statewide effort to crackdown on synthetic marijuana. Cops searched the store for hours and also searched Beach's home in a nearby town. Although the statewide effort netted $150,000 in fake weed and more than $16,000 in cash from other stores, cops didn't find anything illegal in Beach's shop and didn't remove any merchandise.

"Considering the circumstances, I'm happy they acted in a professional manner," Beach said. "I'm happy they didn't rip my business apart, as they could have been looking for whatever it is they were looking for."

Troopers announced the results of the raid on Friday, saying they were motivated by public health concerns over the chemicals used in synthetic drugs.

Synthetic cannabinoids were declared illegal in New York in August 2012 after the state's health commissioner, Dr. Nirav Shah, proposed an amendment to the state sanitary code. Possessing, selling or manufacturing synthetic marijuana is a violation, the equivalent of a traffic ticket.

In this week's raids, troopers and investigators teamed up with local police, hitting smoke shops in the Hudson Valley and upstate, including shops with names like Dazed and Confused and Alchemy Gift Shop.

The raids netted more than 11,000 packages of the fake marijuana, as well as $16,000 in cash and 200 packages of suspected "bath salts," another synthetic drug with physiological effects similar to amphetamines. Cops also found records documenting the sale of the synthetic drugs. In all, the seized property was valued at more than $150,000, cops said.

"This investigation points out the need for stronger penalties for the sale and distribution of these substances,\" Orange County District Attorney Frank Phillips wrote in a statement.

William J. Worden, chief of the Port Jervis Police Department, said he views the prevalence of synthetics in local shops as a quality of life and health hazard.


Synthetic marijuana came to national attention in 2010, when an Iowa teenager used a rifle to commit suicide; detectives who interviewed the victim's friends said the victim had smoked K2, a brand of fake marijuana. Since then, lobbying efforts have focused on the potential health risks to people who use synthetic drugs, with opponents pointing out the manufacturers are not required to disclose the chemicals used in their products.

So-called bath salts entered the national conversation in July of 2012, when early news reports indicated Rudy Eugene, the "Miami Zombie" accused of chewing another man's face off, was high on the synthetic drugs. The Miami-Dade medical examiner later said lab results confirmed marijuana but did not reveal chemicals commonly found in bath salts. Nonetheless, the incident prompted an amendment to existing federal drug laws; additionally, bath salts are illegal in 41 states.

Cops arrested four store clerks and owners in the New York raids, most of them from upstate communities like Rochester and Spencerport.

Before this week's coordinated crackdown, investigators purchased synthetic marijuana from each of the stores targeted in the raids. The products "have already been tested and were positively identified as banned substances under the law," State Police said in a statement.

It wasn't clear why police included Jamaica Junction in the raid if the store did not carry synthetic drugs. Beach said he's voluntarily removed questionable products in the past, and said the majority of his merchandise is "hippy type" items, including T-shirts and gifts. After police -- who he said were polite and respectful -- left his store, Beach said he tried "to look on the bright side."

"Now they know I have nothing here that's illegal," he said.

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