County and state officials say they've got a novel approach to going after shop owners hawking synthetic marijuana, those flashy little tinfoil pouches filled with “potpourri” that keep landing kids in the emergency room.
On Monday, County Attorney Vince Ryan joined local prosecutors and Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton to announce they're using the Deceptive Trade Practices Act to sue a chain of sex shops across Houston that sells so-called “Kush” packets. Katz boutique owner Bao Quoc Nguyen, who also goes by Tony Nguyen, could face up to $60 million in civil penalties if officials prevail in court.
Unlike actual marijuana, which studies show is safer than any other legal (like alcohol or nicotine) or illegal (heroin, cocaine) drug out there, synthetic pot is very nasty stuff that, according to law enforcement, deliberately targets kids who might be looking for a “legal” high. The tinfoil pouches often flash cartoon images like Scooby Doo or Dr. Mario and come in flavors like blueberry, strawberry or mango.
In the lawsuit filed Monday, officials sought to close four Houston-area Katz stores that are within one to two miles of six middle schools and 12 high schools.
Despite the name, synthetic marijuana is nothing like actual mary jane. It's a dried leafy substance – some products list their main ingredients as “lemon balm,” “passion flower” and “wild lettuce” – sprayed with a toxic brew of chemicals meant to mimic the psychoactive effects of actual pot, all marketed with the wink-wink disclaimer “not intended for human consumption.”
Problem is, when this stuff is smoked, kids keep winding up in the emergency room suffering from seizures, low heart rate and tanked blood pressure. Early this year, authorities in Beaumont blamed more than 50 overdoses on “a particularly vile batch” of synthetic pot. Just last weekend, authorities in Austin said one type of synthetic marijuana called “K2” triggered seizures and “violent behavior” in more than 200 people.
“The statement on the packaging that it is 'not intended for human consumption' is simply an absurdity designed to provide cover for the seller and the user if they are confronted by law enforcement,” Ryan said in a statement Monday.
Texas lawmakers banned synthetic marijuana back in 2011, but the law was largely ineffective, considering drug-makers could tweak the chemical compounds in the drugs before Texas could add more items to its banned list. Last month, Gov. Greg Abbott signed a law revising the prohibition on synthetic drugs to expand the definition for synthetic pot.
Ryan and Paxton's offices say this is the first time officials in Texas have targeted synthetic marijuana sellers under the Deceptive Trade Practices Act.
Keep the Houston Press Free... Since we started the Houston Press, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Houston, and we would like to keep it that way. Offering our readers free access to incisive coverage of local news, food and culture. Producing stories on everything from political scandals to the hottest new bands, with gutsy reporting, stylish writing, and staffers who've won everything from the Society of Professional Journalists' Sigma Delta Chi feature-writing award to the Casey Medal for Meritorious Journalism. But with local journalism's existence under siege and advertising revenue setbacks having a larger impact, it is important now more than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" membership program, allowing us to keep covering Houston with no paywalls.