State agencies have won a $4.5 million judgment against an east side Milwaukee business and its owner over the sale of synthetic marijuana between 2011 and 2016, Attorney General Brad Schimel announced Tuesday.
Atomic Glass, at 1813 E. Locust St., was one of two businesses sued last year by the state departments of justice and agriculture, trade and consumer protection over the sale of synthetic THC with such names as “Spice” and “Kush” in violation of a state law prohibiting fraudulent drug advertising.
Milwaukee Circuit Judge Timothy Witkowiak last month found Atomic Glass and owner David Kelly liable for selling 60,006 packets of synthetic cannabinoid, and he issued the final judgment on Monday.
Schimel said the case was pursued as a civil forfeiture, rather than a criminal charge, because “the formula for synthetic drugs changes quicker than lawmakers can outlaw it.” And he issued a warning to other retailers that are selling the products.
“Thanks to the creative thinking of investigators and attorneys, DOJ was able to hold Atomic Glass accountable through the use of Wisconsin’s consumer protection laws and other retailers should take note,” he said in a statement announcing the judgment.
“We cannot allow Wisconsinites, particularly our young people, to be harmed by potentially dangerous drugs, whether they are being peddled on the streets or sold by the person standing behind the counter of a convenience store.”
Synthetic cannabinoids are frequently available in convenience stores, gas stations, drug paraphernalia shops, novelty stores, according to Schimel’s office. Product names include “Dank,” “Joker,” “Scooby Snax,” “Diablo,” “Wanted,” “Caution,” “Geeked Up” and “WTF.”
Use of synthetic cannabinoids has been rising across the country. And state and local authorities have issued multiple warnings about their use, saying they can cause severe illness and death.
Between March and May, more than 200 people in nine states developed serious, unexplained bleeding linked to synthetic cannabinoids thought to be laced with rat poison, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
At least two people in Milwaukee County have died since January as a result of the products, including a 32-year-old Franklin woman whose cause of death was confirmed last week, according to the Milwaukee County medical examiner.
Illinois has had more than 160 cases and at least four deaths related to the drugs, Schimel said.
Synthetic cannabinoids are man-made mind-altering chemicals that are either sprayed on dried, shredded plant material so they can be smoked, or sold as liquids to be vaporized and inhaled in e-cigarettes and other devices, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse. The products are also known as herbal or liquid incense.
The synthetic cannabinoids are similar to THC, the main psychotropic compound in marijuana. But they have slightly different chemical makeups that make them unpredictable and dangerous, according to the lawsuits filed by Schimel’s office.
Ingredients in the synthetic drugs keep blood from clotting, and local officials say the rat poison Brodifacoum has been found recently in synthetics around Milwaukee.
The judgment permanently prohibits Atomic Glass and Kelly from selling or assisting in the sale of synthetic cannabinoid substances and requires them to pay $4,560,587 in civil forfeitures, assessments, and costs.
Schimel said there was no known link between Atomic Glass and the two deaths.
A separate case against Hampton Avenue Group LLC, the owners of Food Town Mini Mart at 4790 N. Hopkins St., is still pending.
The Department of Justice and local police are urging anyone with synthetic cannabinoids to stop immediately and destroy them. And Schimel’s office said users that experience severe or unexplained bleeding or bruising should call 9-1-1 or have someone take them immediately to a hospital.