Two months after state lawmakers provided police with new “tools” against the distribution of synthetic drugs, police on Tuesday used them to hammer home their point on 11 Nashville markets with noontime raids and padlock orders.
“You better get these drugs off of your shelves or we’re coming to see you,” said Mark Gwyn, director of the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation.
Gwyn stood in the parking lot of the Yes We Can market on Gallatin Pike in East Nashville, and along with police Chief Steve Anderson, District Attorney General Torry Johnson, House Speaker Beth Harwell and U.S. Attorney Jerry Martin, announced the markets were being shuttered — at least temporarily — in what they called Operation Clean Sweep.
In Tuesday's sweep, police overall charged 16 people, seized 1,843 packets of synthetic marijuana, two pounds worth of "dream bars" (a synthetic drug mimicking Xanax), drug paraphernalia and $106,324 cash, according to police spokesman Don Aaron.
Metro police, and agents from the TBI and the Drug Enforcement Agency raided the stores after Judge Steve Dozier ordered the markets closed and padlocked, declaring them public nuisances. A court hearing for the market owners has been scheduled for 10 a.m. Thursday. Police expect to file criminal charges against those clerks who sold the packets of synthetic drugs.
The police operation is a direct effort to crack down on the sale of synthetic marijuana and similar controlled substances, sold in some markets under names such as Mad Hatter, Purple Diesel, Bang Bang, Diablo, Charlie Edition, Skywalker Herbal Potpourri and others.
“Synthetic marijuana and similar products are inherently dangerous and are seemingly packaged to appeal to teenagers and young adults,” Chief Steve Anderson said in a statement released as the raids took place at noon.
“The truth is,” Anderson added, “the colorful packets obtained from convenience markets and other venues contain chemicals that can cause very serious side effects on the human body, including loss of control, vomiting, profuse sweating, elevated blood pressure, severe paranoia, hallucinations and even death.”
Earlier this year the General Assembly passed laws that went into effect mid-May making it a felony to sell synthetic marijuana or analogs.
The broadened laws now allow synthetic drugs — those that as Johnson said aren’t technically controlled substances but mimic such drugs — to be considered a public nuisance.
The new legislation also allowed prosecutors to seek padlocking orders against the businesses that sold the products, which if successful would shut down the business until it can satisfy restrictions placed on it by a criminal court judge.
Police began conducting undercover buys at area markets shortly after the new laws went into effect, building evidence they believe constitutes a public nuisance.
Johnson, who requested the padlocking orders, said, “We hope that this police action today gets the attention of all the other markets and similar facilities … to understand that we mean business and this enforcement action will continue unless they get the message and remove this product not only from the counter space but from the market entirely.”
The district attorney also acknowledged, however, that law enforcement officials remained concern that those who make the synthetic drugs will just alter their chemical makeup just enough to avoid prosecution.
That’s a potential problem Johnson and others would have to rely on future legislation to adapt to, he said.
Gwyn said that while Nashville was the first to use the new laws with Tuesday’s raids they should be an example to other stores across Tennessee selling synthetic drugs.
The officials expect to set their sights on those who distribute the products on a larger scale in future raids, something Martin said his office was ready to assist.
The markets padlocked Tuesday are:
• First Discount Tobacco, 3916 Lebanon Pike
• Jones Market, 1519 Jones Ave.
• Main Street Market, 946 Main St.
• Mora Discount Tobacco, 5532 Clarksville Pike
• Nashville Smoke Shop, 3320 Nolensville Pike
• NSP Discount Beer-Tobacco, 3002 Clarksville Pike
• R & H Discount Tobacco, 450A-1 Donelson Pike
• Re-Re Discount Tobacco, 2618 Lebanon Pike
• Toke-N-Roll, 5122-B Nolensville Pike
• Toke-N-Roll, 4824 Old Hickory Blvd.
• Yes We Can, 2828 Gallatin Pike