Local authorities address synthetic marijuana issue

ST. CLAIRSVILLE – A press conference was held Thursday morning to address the issue of synthetic marijuana, also known as K-2, that has caused alarm in the Ohio Valley and resulted in a drug bust.

Debbie DeAngelis, 58, was charged with drug trafficking, an Felony 3, and no bond was set. DeAngelis is the owner of the Trading Post located in Bridgeport.

Along with the Trading Post, Shadyside Party Center in Shadyside, Bob’s Cheap Smokes in St. Clairsville and DeAngelis’ home were also targets of raids. The bust resulted in the seizing of more than 16,000 packets of synthetic marijuana, 17 guns and a large amount of money.

“The Drug Task Force has faced a new front in their battle against illegal drugs and that new front is synthetic marijuana,” said Belmont County Prosecutor Chris Berhalter. “This is a recent phenomena that our county has faced and in looking at how our county addressed it, you’re looking at a group effort with law enforcement from the attorney general office to the Drug Task Force to the sheriff’s department as well as other law enforcement agencies of Belmont County assisted.”

The K-2, which is marketed as a legal product, contains dangerous and banned substances. Law enforcement agencies have seen a rise in crime that has been directly linked to the consumption of this product.

There has also been severe addiction and medical issues as a result of using K-2.

“To attack the problem head on, local businesses were notified that these products are, in fact, illegal and we asked them to immediately stop the sale of these products and to immediately remove them from their stores,” said Berhalter. “And as much as we excepted, most of the businesses upon being notified of this did just that, remove these poisons from their shelves.”

But several business chose not to heed this warning and continued with the sale of synthetic marijuana, claiming it was incense, which resulted in the bust that occurred on Wednesday.

“This is the continuum cooperation of law enforcement, the attorney general, the Bureau of Criminal Investigations (BCI), the Drug Enforcement Association (DEA) and the Belmont County Drug Task Force,” said Sheriff David Lucas. “We are going to continue on, the businesses out there that want to continue on and sell this substance … we are going to come after them, they are no different then these businesses yesterday.”

For Drug Task Force commander Martins Ferry Police Chief John McFarland, this is a new territory for the Belmont County Drug Task Force.

“Normally our drug investigations done by the Drug Task Force usually take place in homes, cars and dark allies, this is a new direction that we have to focus our investigation on,” said McFarland. “These drug sales are done over the counter at your local carry out store or cigarette shop. This investigation went very well with the help of BCI and the DEA.”

McFarland went on to say that if a business does to continue sale, the same thing will happen to them.

“I would like to commend the members of the Belmont County Drug Task Force and their efforts and time they put into this investigation of this case and the other cases that were involved.”