Hundreds of packages of synthetic marijuana seized from Peoria stores

A multi-agency operation headed by Attorney General Lisa Madigan's office resulted in hundreds of packages of synthetic marijuana being relinquished by Peoria stores Wednesday morning.

A total of 683 packages of the drugs, sold as potpourri under a variety of brand names in smoke shops and convenience stores, were voluntarily handed over to authorities by owners of three

stores. A total of 13 stores in Peoria were checked for compliance with the state's ban on the substances.

No one was arrested during the raids made as part of "Operation Smoked Out." Officers with the Peoria County Sheriff's Department and the Peoria Police Department participated in the operation.

"The primary purchasers of these synthetic drugs are teens and young adults," Madigan said at a news conference convened at the Peoria County Sheriff's Department. "Kids have no idea what synthetic drugs they are taking or the effects of it."

As evidence, Madigan pointed to the number of poison center calls related to synthetic drugs that are smoked to mimic the effect of marijuana or snorted to simulate stimulants and hallucinogens.

Calls nationwide related to synthetic marijuana jumped from 2,915 in 2010 to 6,890 in 2011, while the call volume for so-called "bath salts" rose from just 303 in 2010 to 6,072 in 2011.

That increase, in part, contributed to the ban on certain substances imposed by the state in 2011, and a more comprehensive regulation of related compounds beginning at the start of this year.

That approach, however, has limitations. As authorities identify and ban certain chemicals, chemists create new derivatives and bring them to market. Recently proposed legislation - House Bill 5233 - aims to outlaw all derivations by regulating the chemicals through the Illinois Food, Drug and Cosmetics Act.

Peoria County Sheriff Mike McCoy said owners of the businesses that were still selling synthetic drug products Wednesday signed pledges to give up that line of business.

"Next time, if we go back and find more product for sale, we will make arrests," he said.

And Peoria police Chief Steven Settingsgaard said more attention will be paid. While his officers have been regularly combating street drugs like heroin and crack, the synthetic drug trade has "snuck in under our noses," he said.

"We have some catching up to do - at the local level, we're going to have to read up, study up and get on top of it," he said.

Businesses busted

Three of 13 establishments checked Wednesday morning by undercover law enforcement agents were selling prohibited synthetic marijuana products. More than $10,000 worth of products were voluntarily handed over to police, and owners signed pledges not to restock the products.

- Western Fuel Mart, 1016 S. Western Ave., surrendered 228 packages.

- Lincoln Food Mart, 1901 W. Lincoln Ave., surrendered 15 packages.

- Excessive Colors, 416 W. Main St., surrendered 440 packages.