June 15, 2015
Contact: Robert Soard
First Assistant County Attorney
Law Enforcement Joins Forces To Fight Synthetic Marijuana
Law enforcement agencies in Texas and Harris County are joining forces to stop the sale of products that contain dangerous synthetic marijuana, products that are injuring and killing our children. Defendants are four Katz Boutique stores at 1710 Highway 6 South, 16855 North Freeway and 11649 Highway 249, all in Houston, and at 27646 Tomball Parkway in Tomball, along with their owner, Bao Quoc Nguyen, also known as Tony Nguyen. The stores are within one to two miles of six middle schools and 12 high schools.
Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton, Harris County Attorney Vince Ryan, Sheriff Ron Hickman and District Attorney Devon Anderson are all working to prevent four local retailers from selling “Kush,” a seemingly innocuous product that has resulted in people who consume it hurting themselves or others and even dying.
AG Paxton and County Attorney Ryan last week obtained a temporary restraining order from State District Court Judge Tad Halbach against four Houston-area stores and their owner that are selling products that contain synthetic marijuana.
Synthetic marijuana is a designer drug, typically manufactured overseas, that is marketed as a “safe” and “legal” alternative to marijuana. Synthetic marijuana is not marijuana at all but a dried leafy substance that is sprayed with powerful, added-in hallucinogenic chemicals that are dangerous and highly addictive to the user.
The Harris County Sheriff’s Department has sent undercover officers into the defendant stores to purchase these items. Among the products being sold is a product called Kush, which is sold in various fruit flavors. The packaging states that Kush is “lab certified,” “contains no prohibited chemicals or materials” and is legal for sale in all 50 states. It lists the “main ingredients” as a variety of innocuous-sounding vegetable matters—such as “lemon balm,” “passion flower” and “wild lettuce” without any mention of the key ingredient—AB-CHMINACA, a highly addictive and dangerous chemical and a Schedule I drug.
“The statement on the packaging that it is ‘not intended for human consumption’ is simply an absurdity,” said County Attorney Vince Ryan, “designed to provide cover for the seller and the user if they are confronted by law enforcement.”
Also being sold by the defendant stores are NBT Herbal Smokes, which promise “smooth and relaxing” effects to “unwind from the stress of everyday life.” Tests done on the cigarettes purchased by Sheriff’s Deputies show they contain a chemical known as 5-Fluoro-AMB, which is a synthetic cannabinoid, and an analogue of (i.e., structurally similar to) the Schedule I drug AB-PINACA. Under Texas law, it is a crime to deliver or possess an analogue of a controlled substance that has a chemical structure substantially similar to the chemical structure of a controlled substance or is specifically designed to produce an effect substantially similar to, or greater than, a controlled substance.
AG Paxton and County Attorney Ryan are suing the stores under the Deceptive Trade Practices Act, alleging that the defendants have engaged in false, deceptive and misleading acts and practices in the course of trade and commerce since they are clearly misleading consumers that these products are safe and legal. This is the first time the Deceptive Trade Practices Act has been used in Texas with a drug nuisance suit to stop the sale and distribution of Kush and other synthetic drugs. The stores are also being sued as common nuisances under Texas law.
“This is a grave matter,” Sheriff Hickman said. “Our neighbors, families and children are in peril when business owners supply synthetic narcotics under the guise of legitimate business practices. I’m proud that the Harris County Sheriff’s Office has been able to identify illicit substances sold in these stores, and grateful for the County Attorney’s prompt response. Dire situations often call for creative solutions, and those solutions have been identified through this partnership. As the Sheriff of Harris County, I am deeply committed to supporting the County Attorney’s and the District Attorney’s efforts to prosecute those who do harm to our citizens, both criminally and civilly.”
“Too many of our teenagers are dying or becoming severely injured after using synthetic drugs like KUSH,” District Attorney Anderson said. “As a mother, this is especially alarming to me. The Harris County District Attorney's Office is proud to part of this crime fighting initiative.”