Federal agents are cracking down on imports of a synthetic marijuana that has started appearing in the Philadelpha area.
So far, 85 parcels, arriving from Amsterdam at a UPS facility at Philadelphia International Airport, have been detained, then seized after tests proved positive for the drug, according to U.S. Customs and Border Protection.
The latest seizures were on Tuesday, after a CPB lab in Georgia confirmed that two parcels discovered on Jan. 6 contained JWH-018, a synthetic cannabinoid. The seizures marked a first for the agency's Philadelphia region.
The confiscated materials are small, clear plastic bags of dried leaves labeled with the brand name K2 and marketed as a kind of incense. In all, the CBP in Philadelphia has seized about four pounds of the potpourri-like stuff.
"It's just random plant material, but they coat it with a chemical and then they dry it out," said Homeland Security spokesman Steve Sapp.
"Potheads tend to inhale this in a bong," he added.
Spice, Gemini and Yucatan Fire are other brands being distributed, Sapp said.
"JWH-018 is a relatively new discovery for us," said Allan Martocci, CPB director of port oversight in Philadelphia. "If it indeed reacts similar to marijuana, then it poses some real concern for law enforcement, and it's good that CBP removed these products from our nation's marketplace."
Although the drug is not federally classified as a narcotic, it is listed as Drug and Chemical of Concern, illegal for sale without FDA approval, according to a CBP news release.
That violation was the basis for the seizure.
With a market value of up to $50 for 3 grams, the Philadelphia seizures of about 2 kilograms puts the street value of the haul at as much as $30,000, the agency estimated. The parcels weighed from 4 to 92 grams.
Kansas and Missouri are considering outlawing synthetic marijuana.
"These seizures illustrate the tremendous cooperation between CBP's front-line officers and our scientific experts," said Martocci. "Our officers discovered a peculiar product that they suspected to be potentially harmful, and scientific analysis confirmed the product to be synthetic cannabinoid, a product which is prohibited by the FDA for entry to the U.S."
By Peter Mucha
February 19, 2010