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October 31, 2014

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9 indicted in Colorado in synthetic drug crackdown

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AP Photo/Ed Andrieski

Confiscated synthetic drugs are on display at a news conference at the DEA offices in Centennial, Colo., on Wednesday, May 7, 2014, when it was announced that a federal grand jury in Denver has returned indictments charging nine individuals with conspiracy and drug distribution charges related to “Spice.”

CENTENNIAL, Colo. — Nine people indicted by a federal grand jury in Denver were arrested in a handful of states as part of a national crackdown on synthetic marijuana, state and federal authorities announced Wednesday.

The suspects are linked to a company called Heart of Asia that distributed the drug to smoke shops in several states. It's owned by John Gilbert Bowen of Las Vegas, who was among those arrested Wednesday. Officials said he was arrested and being held initially in Las Vegas. It's not clear if he has a lawyer.

Investigators say the business sold to shops in Wisconsin, Nebraska, Alaska, Ohio, Georgia and Illinois as well as Colorado. Bowen and one of his employees are accused of creating a smokable version of synthetic pot, which prosecutors say is a first.

"It will make a substantial dent in the trafficking of this dangerous drug," U.S. Attorney John Walsh said at a press conference, flanked by Colorado Attorney General John Suthers and police chiefs.

Illnesses linked to synthetic pot in Colorado last summer sent 221 people to emergency rooms and caused at least one death — a 15-year-old Aurora boy last August.

While real marijuana is legal in Colorado, synthetic pot blends that are marketed under names such as K2 and Spice are not. One reason the fake stuff retains its appeal even in Colorado is because it isn't detected by workplace drug testing, Suthers said.

Barbra Roach, special agent in charge for the Drug Enforcement Administration's Colorado office, said there is a lot of money to be made in the synthetic drug business. While a 3-gram package includes $1.50 worth of ingredients, its wholesale cost is $4.50 and it sells in stores for between $10 and $15, she said.

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