CENTENNIAL, Colo. (AP/CBS4) – It looked like a disease outbreak. But instead of a virus or bacteria, packets of a leafy mixture sprayed with chemicals sent people to emergency rooms in Colorado. In just a month, synthetic marijuana poisoned more than 200 people and killed at least one.
Law enforcement across Colorado are begging people to warn their family and friends not to use spice.
“The things we’ve seen grow out of this, people trying to cut their own heads off and set themselves on fire,” said Arapahoe County District Attorney George Brauchler. “This is the public safety part of this.”
Sources say Creager Merchantile is one of the major distributors of spice for Colorado but it all starts in China.
“The synthetic chemicals were brought in from China to Florida for sale here in Colorado,” said U.S. Attorney General John Walsh.
James Russell Johnson of Castle Rock was connected to the owner of Creager Merchantile– a wholesale supplier of products to convenience stores.
Law enforcement agencies came together to respond to the crisis last summer because “people were getting sick and dying,” U.S. Attorney John Walsh said at a news conference Wednesday as he stood with federal Drug Enforcement Administration agents, state prosecutors, local police and others. Earlier Wednesday, nine men indicted by a federal grand jury in Denver were arrested in Colorado and several other states on charges of conspiracy and drug distribution as part of a national crackdown on synthetic drugs.
In Colorado, the drugs were marketed as synthetic marijuana and sold at tobacco shops and convenience stores under names such as “Crazy Clown,” ”Requiem” and “Sunburst.”
John Bowen of Las Vegas and Daniel Bernier of Cocoa Beach, Florida, ran companies in Florida and Colorado that imported chemicals from China used to manufacture products that were sold in Colorado and across the United States, according to the Colorado indictment.
Among their products is a smokable version of synthetic pot, which prosecutors say is a first. Federal officials didn’t they know if the two had attorneys. A message left for Bowen at his Las Vegas company wasn’t immediately returned. A number for Bernier wasn’t listed.
Those arrested as a result of the indictment included wholesalers and retailers in Colorado, Illinois, Nebraska and Wisconsin.
A district attorney in Colorado added state charges of racketeering against some of those named in the federal indictment. And the Colorado attorney general filed another case under the state’s consumer protection act against a Denver man named in the indictment who sold the products at his shop.
Barbra Roach, the special agent in charge of the DEA office in Denver, said illnesses in Georgia and Nebraska also were linked to synthetic marijuana last summer, but Colorado bore the brunt of the outbreak. Aurora Police Chief Daniel Oates said that a coroner linked synthetic marijuana to the death of a 15-year-old Aurora boy and that the drug may have caused two other deaths, of adults.
While real marijuana is legal in Colorado, synthetic pot blends are not. One reason the fake stuff retains its appeal even in Colorado is because it isn’t detected by workplace drug testing, state Attorney General John Suthers said. The DEA’s Roach added the synthetic drug business is lucrative. While a 3-gram package includes $1.50 worth of ingredients, its wholesale cost is $4.50 and it sells in stores for between $10 and $15, she said.
With contributions from Donna Bryson, AP Writer (TM and © Copyright 2014 CBS Radio Inc. and its relevant subsidiaries. CBS RADIO and EYE Logo TM and Copyright 2012 CBS Broadcasting Inc. Used under license. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. The Associated Press contributed to this report.)