Lubbock, TX - As Lubbock launches into 2017, city council members, Lubbock Police, the Lubbock County District Attorney's office and others are taking steps to stamp out synthetic marijuana.
The drugs, formally referred to as synthetic cannabinoids, have been on the rise in Lubbock over the past five years. In 2015 Texas laws went into effect banning a wider range of these substances, placing the drugs on the list of controlled substances, and increasing criminal punishments for people who posses and distribute the drug.
Synthetic cannabinoids are typically a plant-based material sprayed with chemicals which produce a "high" when smoked. Lubbock Police explained that because these drugs can be sprayed with an assortment of chemicals, it can be tough to predict the range of effects users experience. Users can experience agitation, confusion, vomiting, addiction, or even death.
In Lubbock the drug is most often discovered by law enforcement being sold at smoke shops, marketed in packaging with labels like "incense". On January 6, the Lubbock Police Homeless Outreach Team along with the Lubbock County District Attorney's Office served a search warrant for the drug at the Tobacco Road store on Avenue Q. Officers seized several bags of synthetic marijuana from the store. The LPD HOT team played a key role in this investigation because they've noticed of the homeless individuals they work with using synthetic marijuana.
City Council member Karen Gibson has been meeting with leaders in Lubbock Police and the District Attorneys office, discussing how to crack down on synthetic pot.
"First of all I want (law enforcement) to do more," Gibson said in regards to removing the drug from stores. "And I think we're on the road to doing more, we've given them the tools locally, we've given them the tools at the state level, my wish is that they continue to go in and hit (the stores carrying the drugs) and continue to do more."
Gibson has become something of an activist for awareness of the dangers of synthetic marijuana, she's been working to get the substance removed from Lubbock stores for half a decade.
Lubbock Police Chief Greg Stevens has heard her concerns and believes there is more LPD will be doing this year to address the rise of synthetic marijuana. For example, Stevens said LPD hopes to conduct more raids of stores selling the drug.
While Lubbock Police say the new laws have helped them curb some synthetic marijuana sales, use and addiction persist in Lubbock because the drug is so profitable for stores. Stevens believes that stores can earn thousands-- sometimes tens of thousands of additional dollars each week selling it.
"As soon as one is shut down another one will open again, so it will take a little bit of time to push the substance down into the darkness that other drugs are in," Stevens explained.
Stevens is optimistic that the increased numbers of officers at the Lubbock Police department will lead to the creation of new units which could target major problems in the city such as synthetic marijuana. LPD is already investigating the ways in which synthetic cannabinoids are transported into the city and trying to disrupt those trade patterns.
He added that another component to getting the drug out of communities will be spreading public awareness
"Now we're getting to that point where people realize it is a big problem," he said. "But it's hard to understand because it's not marijuana that is growing, it is not a natural leaf product, it is not cocaine, it's grown from a plant, this is a purely synthesized chemical product that is sprayed on that looks like marijuana or resembles it. Too often people are encouraged to use it as a safe alternative or a legal alternative, and it's neither of those."
"(Synthetic marijuana is) no different, they are causing the same kind of problems wreaking havoc throughout the city especially on already what we refer to as victimized populations or people who face troubles anyway ," Stevens explained.
Gibson is planning to support Lubbock Police and other public agencies as they target the drug.
She clarified,"I don't want those people to go out of business, if they want to sell legal cigarettes or whatever stuff is legal sell it make a profit I'm all for small business, don't sell something that's illegal, don't sell something that's going to ruin someone's life."
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