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Stamford synthetic drug bust forces AG Tong to take action

Connecticut Attorney General William Tong displays one of the items seized.
Eddy Martinez
Connecticut Public
Connecticut Attorney General William Tong displays an illegal THC product, one of at least a reported 6,000 items seized from three Stamford-based smoke shops.

Three Stamford-based smoke shops will soon be charged with selling synthetic marijuana and other illicit drugs. Stamford police seized the products in a series of recent raids, according to Connecticut Attorney General William Tong.

“I think more than 6,000 products have been seized,” Tong said. “That number is probably still going up as we speak as we inventory and count all these products.”

Tong and Stamford officials gathered at Stamford Police headquarters on Tuesday to speak about the raids, which were conducted around two weeks ago.

Last month, an investigator from the Office of the Attorney General and the Stamford Police Department inspected the three vape shops. At one shop, officials said, investigators discovered a fake electrical panel with a hidden drawer containing flour marijuana. Also stored were other illicit drugs, wads of cash and a ledger. Illegal THC products were stashed above ceiling tiles at another shop.

It is legal to sell recreational cannabis in Connecticut, provided retailers who sell it are licensed to do so.

But Tong said consumers should be careful because synthetic and flour marijuana, used to make food products, is illegally sold widely throughout the state. He said the businesses know that what they are doing is illegal.

“If they thought it was legal, they wouldn’t hide it in ceiling tiles,” Tong said.

The three shops in Stamford that were raided are Zaza Smoke Shop II, Breeze Smoke Shop and World’s Exotic Smoke Shop. The shops stocked products such as Delta 8, which is derived from hemp. Delta 8 is a compound found in hemp but is made more potent after being treated with solvents in order to produce a high. Some smoke shops were also selling other illicit drugs.

State guidelines mandate any THC product with more than 0.3% THC must be sold through a dispensary, and all of the seized products contained more than 0.3%, officials said. The businesses will be charged with violating the state’s Unfair Trade Practices Act.

Many of the products that were sold are brightly colored and can lure children into thinking they are regular candy or snacks.

Stamford police seized at least $30,000 to $40,000 per raid, according to Assistant Police Chief Rich Conklin.

The sale of synthetic marijuana products such as Delta 8 is so widespread , Tong said, that he and other state officials expect to find them in other businesses besides smoke shops.

“When we walk into shops just randomly, we see it more often than we don't,” he said.

The city will take a zero-tolerance approach to the unregulated sale of drugs, according to Stamford Mayor Caroline Simmons.

“My message is that we are not going to tolerate the illicit sale of drugs in our city,” Simmons said. “This is unacceptable. This is harmful to our youth.”

Alex Taubes, a New Haven civil rights attorney, said the raids reflect a socioeconomic divide between those who can afford the legal product and those who can’t.

“The taxes in Connecticut on legalized cannabis are so high. And the choices are so restricted that people are looking for alternatives,” Taubes said. “And the government, instead of giving people more choices and providing more alternatives, is interested in cracking down on small businesses and consumers who can't afford the official Connecticut tax product.”

The average statewide cost to purchase recreational marijuana in March was around $40.69, according to the Connecticut State Department of Consumer Protection. Prices for synthetic cannabis products can vary widely, but they can start at $20.

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