By Patrick Lohmann
No arrests were made during a May 17 raid of the warehouse, but agents took away piles of boxes.
Journal Staff Writer
Federa l and loca l law enforcement officers conducted a citywide raid on Albuquerque-area smoke shops, and witnesses said they saw black-clad agents confiscate dozens of boxes of synthetic drugs from several shops.
Representatives from the Drug Enforcement Administration would not release much information Wednesday, but confirmed that more than a dozen warrants were issued for the sweep.
Rio Rancho police said in a news release that they raided two smoke shops, Raven Blackwood and the Rio Rancho Smoke Shop, and confiscated eight pounds of synthetic marijuana, so-called “Spice,” and some bath salts.
They also arrested 42-yearold Mitchell French of Rio Rancho and charged him with distribution of controlled or counterfeit substances, according to the release.
Two Ray’s Smoke Shop locations — one near Isleta Boulevard and Barcelona SW and another near Coors and Glenrio NW — were raided early Wednesday, according to witnesses.
At the Isleta location, an employee who identified herself only as Rachel was seen entering the business after it had been raided. She said she didn’t understand why her smoke shop was targeted while other smoke shops were left untouched.
“Why don’t they go to all these other places and raid their businesses?” she said. “I’m just upset, frustrated.”
A DEA spokesman declined to discuss the probable cause behind the raids. However, representatives of 13 Albuquerque smoke shops that were not raided said they did not sell “Spice” or bath salts, which are said to mimic the effects of cocaine.
An employee of one of the Zone smoke shops in Albuquerque said business owners based in Texas decided six months ago to take synthetic drugs off the shelves in anticipation of such a raid.
At the Ray’s Smoke Shop on Coors NW, an employee of an adjacent business said about six black SUVs surrounded the business and broke down the door. She said she saw DEA agents confiscate at least 30 cardboard and plastic boxes from the business.
The business’ metal door was taped up after being broken by force, and one display case under the register appeared empty on Wednesday afternoon.
The DEA says some Spice products have reported effects similar to marijuana, and other users have reported paranoia, panic attacks, increased heart rate and increased blood pressure.
Albuquerque is something of a hub for synthetic marijuana distribution throughout the country, according to an affidavit from a May DEA investigation.
In May, seizure warrants filed in U.S. District Court in New Mexico allege a national distribution network of the products. Albuquerque-based Dawg House Distribution sent more than 1,300 shipments to 38 states via Fed Ex between June 2011 and the end of February, the affidavit says.
Two Rio Rancho smoke shops were raided Wednesday morning and one person was arrested as part of a “lengthy” drug investigation and joint operation involving federal and local law enforcement, according to the Rio Rancho Police Department.
Officers from the federal Drug Enforcement Administration, the New Mexico Middle Rio Grande Narcotics Task Force and the Rio Rancho Police Department conducted a joint operation at two smoke shops in the city after a lengthy illicit drug investigation, Rio Rancho police said in a news release.
The investigation resulted in the raid on the businesses, police said.
According to police, the investigation revealed that both smoke shops, Raven Blackwood and the Rio Rancho Smoke Shop, were selling “Spice,” which is synthetic marijuana.
Bath salts, another synthetic drug and nearly eight pounds of Spice were seized during the operation, according to the news release.
Police said one of the store owners admitted he made about $500 per day with Spice transactions. One arrest was made and more were pending the analysis of the seized materials.
The arrested person was identified as Mitchell French, 42, of Rio Rancho. He was charged with distribution of controlled or counterfeit substances.