Calgary Herald

Synthetic pot bust a first in Calgary

Police act on tip received from Border Services

- JASON VAN RASSEL

In 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.

“Why would you tell someone how to smoke it?” he said.

 ?? Ted Rhodes, Calgary Herald ?? Shauna Ferguson, an employee at Bongs and Such, takes a smoke break outside the 18th Avenue N.E. outlet Thursday.
Ted Rhodes, Calgary Herald Shauna Ferguson, an employee at Bongs and Such, takes a smoke break outside the 18th Avenue N.E. outlet Thursday.
 ?? Stuart Gradon, Calgary Herald ?? Calgary police Det. Collin Harris, left, and Rick Cuzzetto of the Canada Border Services Agency show the seized synthetic marijuana.
Stuart Gradon, Calgary Herald Calgary police Det. Collin Harris, left, and Rick Cuzzetto of the Canada Border Services Agency show the seized synthetic marijuana.

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