PARKER COUNTY —
Making the first major arrests Friday for K2 distribution in Parker County since a state law went into effect a year ago outlawing the substance, the Weatherford-Parker County Special Crimes Unit has charged the owner and clerk of a Parker County store and seized about 7 pounds of the synthetic marijuana.
Investigators executed a search warrant Friday evening at Tobacco & More in the 3000 block of Ranger Highway and arrested store owner Francisco Don Uduwarage, 40, and clerk Sanka Dilhara Welihinda, 27, on felony charges.
“From the records which were seized, we can accurately state the suspects were making a daily average profit of $3,100,” SCU Commander, sheriff’s Lt. Mike Camp said. “At least 95 percent of those sales were directly from K2.”
Both men told investigators they knew the products were illegal to sell and kept the K2 hidden within the store, selling it only to trusted, known customers, according to the sheriff’s office.
SCU investigators seized 890 K2 packages, equaling 3,096 grams, according to the sheriff’s office. Packages sold for $30 to $50, making the street value price of the seized K2 at least $26,700.
Although the product packages state K2 is not for human consumption, Uduwarage reportedly told investigators that those who purchased K2 also purchased products used to smoke it.
“It is clearly obvious what the main intended sales of the store was,” Parker County Sheriff Larry Fowler said. “The condition of the store presented possible health hazards. K-2 and some tobacco sales were the main products being sold. There was a very minimal amount of other merchandise distributed.”
SCU members stated law enforcement officials have been “behind the curve” when it comes to building and prosecuting similar cases as well as identifying K2 due to lack of laboratory testing.
“Proper testing is now currently available and has proven beneficial to local and state cases,” Camp said. “This is a monumental win for law enforcement and state prosecutors.”
Investigators did a previous undercover buy at the address and were able to confirm that packages of Diablo and King Kong contained the outlawed ingredients, according to Parker County Sheriff’s spokeswoman Danie Huffman. The remainder of seized packages will have to be submitted for lab testing, she said.
Pursuing K2 cases has been time consuming and difficult because the legislature outlawed only certain specific chemical compounds last year, law enforcement and prosecutors say.
Manufacturers who change the chemical composition of the synthetic marijuana sold may not fall under current laws and tests of the product for illegal substances return negative.
Investigators face a challenge because they don’t yet have a field test for the illegal substances, like they do for methamphetamine and other drugs, and have been submitting evidence to be tested in a labratory before seeking an arrest.
Things have been further delayed locally because the DPS Crime Lab in Abilene, where drugs seized in Parker County are tested, was down for a couple months, creating a backlog and delaying drug cases up to six months, Assistant District Attorney Jeff Swain told the Democrat last month.
Though the list of chemicals made illegal is extensive, Swain said he expects legislators may have to add to the law every legislature to keep up with the manufacturers.
One Weatherford group has recently been raising public awareness on the issue of K2 sales in the Weatherford and Parker County area.
Darren Donaldson of IFC Wellness Coalition gave a presentation to the Weatherford City Council on Aug. 14 about the dangers of K2, bath salts and other types of drugs.
“It’s 10 times the potency of marijuana today,” Donaldson said of K2. Calls to poison control about K2 have increased in recent years, he said.
“Just in the past couple weeks while this has been on our front burner, almost everybody I talk to about this has told me a story about someone they know about something that happened in their front yard or to their neighbor’s kid or at school,” Donaldson said.
Police Chief Mike Manning told the council in August that they have three cases currently in the district attorney’s office pending indictment against distributors.
“Our [city] ordinance is now outdated,” Manning said regarding the city’s regulation of the issue prior to the state law that went into effect last year.
Up until recently there were no lab tests available so they could make a buy and submit the evidence but couldn’t get lab results, Manning said.
The technology is starting to catch up but as the technology catches up, they develop a new analogue, Manning said.
Weatherford police have been making buys since Sept. 1, 2011, when the law went into effect, according to Manning.
The state legislature is currently looking at writing a different type of law where they wouldn’t have to worry about analogues, he said.
Locally, the issue with bath salts, outlawed at the same time, has not gone away but has died off, Manning said, adding that there is a problem with synthetic cannabinoids.