Two kinds of highly potent marijuana are on the rise in Lincoln County as recent nationwide drug trends hit area streets, city and county narcotics investigators said.
Officers with both Lincolnton Police Department and the Sheriff’s Office have encountered synthetic and hydroponic versions of the illegal substance on numerous occasions over the last year.
Emergency Medical Services even responded to at least two overdoses in the city this year stemming from synthetic marijuana use, Det. Sgt. Jason Munday said.
Munday described the man-made substance as “much stronger” in nature than regular marijuana, resulting in increased side effects on the body.
While city police said they started witnessing synthetic types being bought and sold throughout the area roughly 18 months ago, hydroponic marijuana started to surface four years ago.
Munday noted the particular kind of drug is grown in water rather than soil and typically in a controlled interior environment.
Not only does hydroponic marijuana also offer a more powerful high, due to an increase in the chemical ingredient THC, but also costs nearly three times as much as regular grade marijuana.
While weed, in general, contains over 400 different ingredients, according to the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) website, THC is the additive producing the greatest psychoactive effect, ultimately changing how the brain works over time.
Sheriff’s drug investigators said hydroponic marijuana contains nearly 30 percent more THC than regular marijuana and that the man-made substance also costs between $3,000 and $5,000 per pound on the streets.
The steep price may seem outrageous compared to a pound of regular marijuana, valued anywhere from $800 to $1,000, depending on how it’s packaged and sold, deputies said.
However, drug officers pointed out the overall product is “better” in dealers’ minds and worth the cost.
Often called “exclusive,” “loud,” “dro,” and “good bud,” among other street names, deputies aren’t fooled by the substance’s clever, covert titles since they’ve busted more hydroponic users in the last year than the county agency has ever apprehended in its history.
Raids stemmed not just from periodic drug roundups but also undercover investigations throughout the year.
In the last six months alone, narcotics investigators have seized at least 11 pounds of hydroponic weed in two unrelated county incidents.
“It seems like every marijuana bust we see now is hydro,” Lt. Jason Reid said.
In February, deputies discovered 7 pounds of hydroponic marijuana growing inside the gutted walls of a Denver man’s residence on Lawhorn Lane. More than 20 marijuana plants, valued at up to $15,000, were seized from the residence, the Sheriff’s Office said.
Investigators removed another 4-5 pounds of the water-grown substance from a second Denver home this year.
Regardless of the type of marijuana being bought, sold or grown, the law does not discriminate in terms of consequences. Prison time is the same for synthetic, hydroponic and regular marijuana, deputies said.
However, as far as trafficking charges go, Sheriff’s investigators pointed out the rarity of locating hydroponic in large quantities.
Deputies said it’s unnecessary for drug users to harbor a significant amount of a product that is both expensive and still greatly effective in small doses.
In addition, marijuana as a whole is more alluring for dealers because it takes much more of the drug than other controlled substances such as heroin and cocaine to equal a trafficking amount.
Investigators said five pounds of weed equals 14 grams of cocaine and just two grams of heroin.
Deputies also touched on the county’s increase in synthetic marijuana, revealing stores are the primary source of the substance.
They said part of the imitation drug’s appeal is a dealer’s ability to produce it according to preference, using various kinds of chemical ingredients to achieve a desired high.
While the DEA has outlawed a large number of the different types of chemical components found in synthetic marijuana, labeling them as controlled substances, they have yet to determine them all, motivating individuals to continue crafting the drug with ingredients still deemed “legal,” deputies said.
In a drug bust earlier this month in Lincolnton, police arrested both an owner and employee of a local smoke shop for selling man-made marijuana to customers.
The city agency said they conducted undercover buys at the Tobacco Outlet on East Main Street over several months and even located synthetic marijuana hidden inside cigarette cartons.
Munday said most shop owners tell customers the drug is legal and even believe the lie themselves.
Typically, synthetic marijuana is hidden behind store counters and sold to individuals who frequent the business and know the substance is available, police said.
While Lincoln County has witnessed a rise in marijuana recently, the local problem ultimately stems from a nationwide addiction.
According to the Office of National Drug Control Policy, in 2009, more than 375,000 emergency room visits across the country stemmed from marijuana use. In addition, federal officials said a high rate of 8th-12th grade students have been abusing the drug.
Numbers were based on a Monitoring the Future study the federal agency conducted in 2010, which revealed daily marijuana use had risen from 5.2 percent the year before to 6.1 percent.