Harris County Attorney Vince Ryan, with help from the Texas Attorney General, persuaded a judge to fine a local smoke shop and novelty chain $1.2 million for selling kush, Ryan's office announced Thursday.
Katz Boutique and Smoke Shop agreed to pay the fines to settle several lawsuits filed by the state and Harris County against the company's nine area stores. The penalty is the largest ever for sellers of kush, which is sometimes called synthetic marijuana, though the drugs share few similarities.
“Store owners who choose to sell kush and ignore the law do so at their own peril,” Ryan said in a statement. “My office will continue the fight, together with law enforcement and state, county, and city officials, to put a stop to greedy store owners who sell these dangerous chemicals to our children."
Ryan said an undercover investigation by the Harris County Sheriff's Office resulted in the seizure of more than 3,000 kush packets from Katz stores. He said his office believes the chain sold thousands more. Should Katz Boutique be caught selling kush again, the settlement states, the stores will be shut down for a year.
Katz Boutique did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Last month, we wrote about the strain kush use has placed on Houston police and first responders, even as the city ramps up efforts to combat the drug. Kush overdoses accounted for nearly half of the Houston Fire Department's calls for service between last September and June of this year. On a single day in June, 16 people were treated after overdosing on Kush in Hermann Park.
On August 11, local law enforcement officials announced a crackdown on 58 stores suspected of selling kush.
UPDATE September 8, 4:33 p.m.: Marc Hill, an attorney for Katz Boutique, said the company believes the settlement is fair. Hill said the lawsuit stemmed from kush sales at Katz stores outside of Houston, since Hill said Katz Boutique complied with a 2014 request from Houston officials to stop selling kush at their city stores.
If Harris County or the state simply asked Katz to stop selling kush at its other locations, Hill said the company would have complied and likely avoided the lawsuit.
“We're a good corporate citizen,” Hill said.
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.