Des Moines police arrest six accused of selling synthetic marijuana

Originally published on The Des Moines Register’s website.

Des Moines police arrested at least six people Tuesday suspected of illegally selling synthetic marijuana, a substance implicated in several deaths and numerous medical problems in central Iowa in recent years.

Police executed search warrants at six area convenience stores and two homes simultaneously Tuesday morning. They announced the arrests at an afternoon news conference.

“This is a big day for the Des Moines Police Department,” Des Moines Police Maj. Steve Waymire said at the news conference.

Officials said the searches and arrests were the result of over six months of investigation during which narcotics-unit detectives routinely worked 12 to 15 hours per day.

Since July 1, the Des Moines Police Department has tracked 53 cases involving synthetic marijuana. In January, a woman died in Des Moines of cardiac arrest after using synthetic marijuana.

“A lot of those cases have been calls where folks have been having adverse reactions to synthetic marijuana to the point where they require medical attention,” said Sgt. Jason Halifax, a police department spokesman.

Police expect more arrests and will seek to search more homes and storage units, Halifax said.

Synthetic marijuana and other narcotic imitations are the second-most-used drugs by Des Moines-area high school students, Waymire said.

“A lot of the things we’re seeing are high school-aged kids who are buying it, smoking it and having these adverse effects,” Halifax said.

The conveniences stores searched were: Shop N Save, 2127 Martin Luther King Blvd.; Shop N Save, 1829 Sixth Ave.; Shop N Save, 4685 N.W. Second Ave.; Nat Food Mart, 3804 Hubbell Ave.; Nat Food Mart, 1443 Second Ave.; and University Grocery, 2121 University Ave.

Police also executed search warrants at two homes: at 2200 Pleasant St. in West Des Moines and 1145 S.E. Indigo Lane in Waukee.

Anonymous calls and tips helped police identify the stores, as did information from confidential informants, from people who had suffered adverse effects from smoking synthetic marijuana, and from fire medics who had dealt with the effects of synthetic marijuana. The police also made undercover purchases.

Those arrested either owned or worked at the stores or knew those who did. The stores’ liquor licenses have been suspended, police said.

Police believe more than half of the stores’ daily sales came from synthetic marijuana sales.

“We consider this to be a multimillion-dollar industry for these businesses owners,” Waymire said.

Synthetic marijuana is referred to by many names, including K2, 7H and Mister Nice Guy.

A state lab tested many of the items confiscated by police and found banned substances, police said.

Even items that did not have illegal substances in them are still considered against the law as an imitation controlled substance “because it’s being sold and marketed as a way to get high,” Waymire said.

“It’s not being sold for anything other than that,” he said. “The amounts they are selling these products for are well in excess of anything other than materials used to get high.”

The way the stores sold the items also indicated the items were meant to be used for drug use. The stores kept the items under the counter with smoking papers and pipes, authorities said.

Those arrested Tuesday include: Nadeem Islam, 20; Joshzetta Wilson, 35; Gowtham Jaggavarapu, 23; Muhammad Madni, 31; Fawn Johnson, 43; and Deanna Bacon, 48.

All are Des Moines residents except for Jaggavarapu, who lives in West Des Moines. Charges include possession of a controlled substance, delivery of an imitation controlled substance, and conspiracy to deliver a controlled substance.

Synthetic marijuana effects, history

According to the American Association of Poison Control Centers, health effects of using synthetic marijuana can be life-threatening.

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