The number of business owners willing to risk it all and sell synthetic marijuana appears to be on the decline in Oklahoma after years of high-profile police raids and heaps of bad publicity.
In 2008, when synthetic marijuana first appeared in large quantities in Oklahoma, shops and stores in all 77 counties were selling the drug, which was first marketed as “K-2” or “Spice,” said Mark Woodward, spokesman for the Oklahoma Bureau of Narcotics and Dangerous Drugs.
“The decline has been sharp from where it started,” Woodward said. “At first it was unique because, I think, many people weren't sure about the legality of it. People knew you could make large amounts of money doing it, so it became widespread fairly quickly.”
Since 2008, however, shops selling synthetic marijuana have been raided by law enforcement on a regular basis, putting a fright into those already in the business and discouraging others from taking the plunge themselves, Woodward said.
The decrease in shops selling synthetic marijuana was evident as bureau investigators worked recently to take down a store in Weatherford, a small city 70 miles west of Oklahoma City.
“At the time, these people in Weatherford were seeing people coming from places like Woodward, Lawton and Enid ... driving great distances round trip just to get it,” he said. “That tells you right there: A lot of the market for this product has dried up.
“Stores are simply not wanting to take the chance,” Woodward said. “Even though they were making millions of dollars, all of that can be dried up in one good lawsuit by a parent of a child who smoked this stuff and ended up in the hospital.”
Hospital visits continue growth
Despite all of the negative attention synthetic marijuana has received in the past two years, use of the drug continues to grow in Oklahoma, Woodward said.
“There are definitely fewer stores selling it,” he said. “But we can't confirm there's been a drop in the use.”
The evidence, Woodward said, can be seen in hospital visits. The bureau receives nonfatal drug overdose reports from hospitals throughout the state.
“It actually continues to creep up a little bit,” Woodward said. “It's kind of like a staircase going up. Each year, since '08 when it hit the market, you're seeing more and more people go to the hospital because of synthetics.”