Agents spent Wednesday morning going in and out of the "Stuffed Pipe" Smoke Shop in northwest Fresno. The raid was part of a 33-state crackdown on synthetic drugs. "This is drug trafficking," said John Donnelly with the Drug Enforcement Administration. "This is an attempt by people to camouflage or conceal what they're doing."
Officials with the federal agency say designer synthetic drugs are often marketed as herbal incense, bath salts and jeweler cleaner. In total, agents have seized nearly $6 million and hundreds of packages containing the new class of chemicals. "Most of the drugs are designed to simulate the effects of another drug. In this case, marijuana. So it's a synthetic attempt to simulate the effects of marijuana," said Donnelly.
But experts say the effects can sometimes be more dangerous than marijuana – and the business is just as lucrative. "The markup on these drugs are unbelievable. You can make a quarter million dollars off something as small as a kilogram of synthetic cannabinoid," said Donnelly.
Federal agents worked with local law enforcement to serve 9 search warrants at residential and retail shops throughout the Central Valley. They also visited two other "Stuffed Pipe" smoke shops in Fresno. Action News tried getting a hold of the owner but all shops were closed. One sign read they were closed until further notice.
While no arrests were made, the investigations are ongoing. "This is a little bit different than a regular case. One of the key tricks to this is you have to show that the persons involved intended this for human consumption," said Donnelly.
Criminal charges are likely to follow once the investigations wrap up.
Investigators say more than 300 search warrants were issue throughout the U.S. and 5 other countries.