Federal prosecutors say they have dismantled a criminal ring that allegedly distributed at least $18 million worth of synthetic drugs across the country over the last three years.
Six federal and ten local agencies participated in the investigation, which special agent James P. Shrouba, the head of the St. Louis office of the Drug Enforcement Agency, said took down an entire organization from the producers to the retailers. Twenty-eight people from Illinois, Arizona, Missouri and Indiana were either arrested or surrendered to authorities.
The prosecutions announced on Wednesday are the first time U.S. Attorney Richard Callahan has used a section of federal law that tries to keep pace with the constantly-changing "fake pot" landscape.
"By chemically altering existing controlled substances, they attempt to stay one step ahead of the regulatory process," he said. "Combating this new tactic are prosecutions such as this one that rely on statutory language that also outlaws substances that are substantially similar in their chemical make-up as well as their physiological effect."
Callahan says the tactic has been effective in other districts. Shroba, with the DEA, also said the law is effective.
Expanded state authority
Local law enforcement were familiar with many of the stores selling the products, but didn't think they could prosecute because Missouri law outlaws only specific chemical compounds.
Last legislative session, Democratic state Rep. Jeff Roorda of Jefferson County offered an amendment that would have made it easier for the state to declare new synthetic drugs as controlled substances, making it easier for county prosecutors to bring synthetic drug cases.
"The feds only seem to be interested in the big cases. We miss the small and mid-level drug dealers by leaving this to federal enforcement," he said.
Roorda's amendment failed last session on a mostly party line vote, with Republicans saying they were worried about giving more power to the bureaucracy. Roorda says he'll try again.
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