Last month, state authorities raided Grasshopper Gift Shop, Jamaica Junction, and Dragon Chasers Emporium in search of the newly illegal speed known as bath salts. However, after speaking with business owners, employees, and legal representatives of those suspected of the crime, the matter seems to be more intricate than the description in the Centre Daily Times.
State troopers executed a search warrant for the three stores on February 22nd after two months of police investigation led authorities to believe that the businesses were profiting from the sale of substances like K2 and bath salts, which were made illegal by an amendment to the Controlled Substance, Drug, Device and Cosmetic Act signed by Governor Tom Corbett last year.
Authorities seized 5,315 units of synthetic smoke blends, 938 units of bath salts, more than $13,000 in cash and thousands of glass pieces from the three stores according to a Pennsylvania State Police news release. According to store employees at Grasshopper Gift Shop, police also patted down customers, confiscated product catalogs and seized the media laptop used to play the in-store classic rock soundtrack. Simply put, police treated legitimate businesses like they were executing a drugs bust at a dope house, before any charges in the case had even been filed. Store inventory became drug paraphernalia. Shoppers became suspects.
Despite the claims by law enforcement that all three head shops were selling Schedule I controlled substances (i.e. heroine, marijuana, or, in the aforementioned case, oregano sprinkled in some dirty chemicals), employees and legal representatives of Jamaica Junction, Grasshopper Gift Shop, and Dragon Chasers cling to innocence.
Ben Kendall, manager of Grasshopper Gift Shop, said officers took only 16 units of the herbal smoke blends Wet and Down2Earth from his store in their raid. Both products are made in America, and have an accompanying lab report that claims their legality in the state of Pennsylvania. The parent company that makes Wet has also pledged to throw their lawyers into the case, expressing their belief in legality of their products.
Kendall claims that Grasshopper Gift Shop had no bath salts in their inventory, stating the owner’s moral objection to such products–a position that has been consistent for over a year, even before the ban on bath salts became law. No glass was confiscated.
Attorney Joseph F. Walsh, the legal counsel for Jamaica Junction, similarly said that no bath salts were confiscated during the raids because store owner Uncle Mike didn’t carry bath salts at the time of the raid. Like Kendall, Walsh said that the products confiscated from Jamaica Junction’s inventory were completely “legal herbal incenses,” claimed by suppliers to not be in conflict with Pennsylvania laws. However, glass pieces were reportedly confiscated from Jamaica Junction, whereas none were said to have been taken from Grasshopper Gift Shop. Again, spokesmen for Jamaica Junction proclaimed their innocence, suggesting that the pipes, while legal, were close enough to the suspected illegal products to be considered drug paraphernalia.
The case for Dragon Chasers was slightly more difficult to make, with the store being closed. The office phone for owner John O’Keefe rang straight to a voicemail that stated “I prefer email communication,” but provided no email. Onward State was also informed by O’Keefe that his attorney would be in contact with us, after attempts were made to reach his personal phone number. As of press time, that had yet to happen.
However, a source close to the situation helped paint a clearer picture of internal operations of the store than the gut feelings acquired from an owner avoiding the media.
According to the source, Dragon Chasers was not selling bath salts, either; they were selling massage powder, which employees believed to be legal products. According to a FOX files report, massage powders are a chemically different compound than the MDPV found in bath salts, but have similar effects upon ingestion. Indeed, massage powder appears to be an analogue of the same meth-like chemicals found in bath salts–just sold from the guise of new packaging and intended use. However, the employee maintained that this all was unbeknownst to workers at Dragon Chasers. Glass pieces and incense were also confiscated from the store during the raid.
It appears Dragon Chasers’ exclusive local participation in the massage powder market landed them in the thickest trouble of the three head-shops.
It is the only one to remain closed–our source informs us that it likely to remain closed indefinitely–and with simple math on the police reports shows that Dragon Chasers appears to be the hardest hit by confiscations. If the claims from owners and representatives of Jamaica Junction and Grasshopper Gift Shop are accurate, and the two stores were in fact not selling bath salts, the 938 units of bath salts seized during the raid would all have come from the shelves of Dragon Chasers. As to why the report didn’t recognize the new street name, perhaps the massage powder moniker is still too new in the ever-evolving legal drug scene to replace bath salts on police records. Or perhaps the police don’t distinguish between the two.
For those outside of the tight-knit head shop community for whom this news flew under the radar, it might appear that law enforcement is keeping a diligent eye on wrong-doers and legal speed freaks. In fact, it would be easy to assume that, by reading the CDT’s story on the drug busts. However, for those who frequented the head-shops that were hit, this would seem more like an Orwellian crackdown on honest business owners and customers. It also seems as though an entire industry was targeted for the apparent illegal inventory of just one store.
However, the source I spoke with doesn’t quite see Dragon Chasers as the bad apple that poisoned the tree, and painted some of the former workers as victims.
“We were a family, regardless of the shit we sold,” said the aforementioned source. “We thought it was legal. We asked our boss when it was bath salts not to sell it, we begged him to stop. Now we’re out of a job and a chill place to hang out.”