A gram of this stuff will cost you about $10 in the Chicago suburbs.
In some stores, it’s in plain view. In other places, it’s pulled out from under the counter when requested.
It’s not for human consumption, according to its labels.
What is it, really?
That question has challenged authorities who are on the hunt for synthetic marijuana.
A man-made drug has popped up in stores across the country, according to the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration. The substance is typically sold in small amounts, after being sprayed onto potpourri and incense.
Two Patch reporters last month bought various incense and potpourri products sold in amounts as small as one gram from local liquor and tobacco shops. There’s no easy way to identify these or any other substances as synthetic marijuana without lab testing.
“With the combination of them saying ‘Not for human consumption’ and what isn’t in it, they are still evading telling you what is actually in it,” said Special Agent Will Taylor, spokesman for the DEA’s Chicago Field Division.
U.S. drug officials say some people ignore the “Do not consume” labels on these incense and potpourri products and smoke them to get high. Some of the products are legal, others have been made illegal or banned outright in some states. Overseas manufacturers, by changing the chemical composition of synthetic marijuana, have been able to circumvent some efforts to ban the drug.
Authorities could not immediately confirm whether the products the two Patch reporters bought were legal, illegal, or whether they contained a form of synthetic marijuana. But customers of the local shops believed some of the items were indeed synthetic marijuana.
“I heard it can do a lot of things,” said a 21-year-old man in North Aurora. “It can make you vomit; it can give you seizures; it can do a lot of stuff, but it’s never done any of that to me.”
Editor’s note: Two reporters went separately into various stores, inquired and/or purchased the products without identifying themselves as reporters to the clerks. The Patch staffers identified themselves as reporters for all other parts of this story.
Here are the detailed accounts of what two Patch.com reporters purchased at various shops in Kane County. The reporters each went to a separate series of stores; they did not go to the same stores together. In most cases, the reporters asked the shop attendant or clerk if the store carried “any of that incense or potpourri stuff.”
The products cost anywhere from $8 to $20. All products were sold in one-gram quantities, except where noted.
The products were found mainly in liquor stores and tobacco shops. With one exception, Patch could not find similar incense or potpourri items at local gas stations. When asked, most of the baffled clerks at gas station convenience stores pointed to air fresheners for cars.
At stores where the products were purchased, all but one cashier honored a request for a receipt, but the printed receipts make no mention of the actual products. Descriptions on the receipts for purchases included “misc” (miscellaneous), “other,” or “News.”
BataviaStore Products Purchased Location Inside Store Receipt Description and Total Cost Notes
BB's Liquor & Tobacco, 1804 Mill St.
The Original Black Mamba incense
Dead Man Walking (incense)
Underneath front counter, not visible to customers
$21.50 ($10 per product plus $1.50 sales tax)
- Although each product was labeled as not for human consumption, the clerk checked the reporter's ID as if he were selling products not legal to minors.
- The phrase “Black Mamba” is listed as a street name for synthetic marijuana in the 2011 Edition of the U.S. DEA’s Drugs of Abuse publication.
Crown Liquors & Tobacco, 135 First St.
Extreme Red Magic, strawberry scent (potpourri)
Underneath front counter, not visible to customers
Two entries that said "News"
$25 ($15 for Relaxinol, $10 for Extreme Red Magic and no sales tax)
KL Liquors & Pantry, 1351 Wind Energy Pass
Red Magic, Pina Colada scent (incense)
K2 XXX Strawberry (incense, 3 grams)
Underneath front counter, not visible to customers
$32.25 ($20 for K2 XXX Strawberry, $10 Red Magic, plus $2.25 sales tax)
The phrase “K2” is listed as a street name for synthetic marijuana in the 2011 Edition of the U.S. DEA’s Drugs of Abuse publication.
North AuroraStore Products Purchased Location Inside Store Receipt Description and Total Cost Notes
Tobacco For Less, 963 Oak St.
Dragon Eye (potpourri)
A large clear plastic bag, at the bottom of a large clear glass display case
"Dragon Eye" (handwritten receipt)
$16 ($14.99 plus $1.01 sales tax)
- The clerk wrote out a receipt for the purchase and listed the actual product "Dragon Eye." He said he did not know how to print a receipt from the register.
- On a different trip to the store on a different day, the Patch staffer identified himself as a reporter to a 21-year-old man outside the shop. The man, who also purchased Dragon Eye, said he smokes the substance to get high. The man declined to give his name to the reporter.
AuroraStore Products Purchased Location Inside Store Receipt Description and Total Cost Notes
Aurora Fuel Mart (Mobil gas station), 1125 Aurora Ave.
K2 XXX Chronic (incense, 3 grams)
Smiley Dog (unknown)
Lion Heart (unknown)
- Smiley Dog and Lion Heart: In a glass display case on the front counter (accessible only on clerk's side)
- K2 XXX Chronic: In a small box behind front counter, not visible to customers
$25 ($10 Smiley Dog, $10 Lion Heart, minus $3 discount for purchase of two, plus $8 K2 XXX Chronic and no sales tax)This store had multiple products in the display case that had different names but looked similar to the Smiley Dog and Lion Heart products.
Aurora Food Mart, West Indian Trail and Pennsylvania Avenue
Hanging from display on front counter facing customers
$10 (No sales tax)
- This store had several potpourri and incense products on a counter located behind the secured front counter area.
- The High Voltage packaging has several unique spellings, such as "Joosy Froot" and "Pottpourri Incense"
St. CharlesStore Products Purchased Location Inside Store Receipt Description and Total Cost Notes
Lundeen’s Discount Liquors, 610 E. Main St.
Fire Extreme Potpourri
Behind front counter visible to customers
Dead Man Walking (Note: this is the name of an incense; the receipt did not name the actual product)
$14.03 ($12.99 plus $1.04 sales tax)
- The clerk checked the reporter's ID as if he were selling a product not legal to minors.
- This store had at least three different brands of potpourri and a product called White Mamba that costs $60 per gram.
Tobacco & Gifts, 1556 E. Main St.
Bayou Blaster (potpourri, 1.5 grams)
Various display cases on top of counters
Receipt requested; none provided by cashier
- Although the product was labeled as not for human consumption, the clerk checked the reporter's ID as if he were selling a product not legal to minors.
- There were at least a dozen different brands of potpourri inside the display case.
- A handwritten sign on the display said the products were not for human consumption.
Still Unknown, Still Legal
Notwithstanding what the reporters observed, authorities say it’s hard to declare a substance as synthetic marijuana or as illegal.
“Just because there’s a name brand, we have no idea ... what’s in them,” said Special Agent Taylor. “Without having a chemical analysis, we don’t know what chemical compounds are there.”
The only incense or potpourri-related substance the Kane County Sheriff’s Office has sent for lab testing is the one being investigated in the aftermath of a , said Pat Gengler, Sheriff’s Office spokesman.
Max Dobner, 19, of Aurora died in the Batavia Township crash. His mother, Karen Dobner, said that he . Karen Dobner thinks her youngest son might have been in a hallucinatory, panicked state of mind from the potpourri right before the crash.
Dobner and a friend on June 14 purchased the iAroma potpourri at the Cigar Box, a store inside the Westfield Fox Valley Shopping Mall in Aurora, according to Karen Dobner. After the crash, the friend gave Karen Dobner the remainder of the potpourri and a receipt for its purchase from the store. Karen Dobner said she gave the items to police.
Gengler confirmed the Kane County Sheriff's Office has a receipt for this case and sent the potpourri for testing. The investigation into Max Dobner's death is still ongoing, he said.
A Patch staffer on July 24 visited the store but did not identify himself as a reporter. The staffer asked a man behind the register if they had any potpourri or incense products. The man said that they stopped carrying the products recently but did not provide a reason why. The man was able to provide the Patch staffer with a URL for a website that offers the products.
At least one synthetic drug-related incident was reported recently in the Tri Cities.
On May 24, police responded to an alarm at Lundeen’s Discount Liquors, 610 E. Main St., St. Charles, and found one of the front windows smashed.
When the owners arrived, they reportedly told police they found 155 bottles of White Mamba missing. White Mamba is described as a type of plant food and as bath salts, according to the report. U.S. drug officials describe bath salts as products containing another designer drug that results in psychotic episodes, panic attacks and an increased heart rate. The report did not specify whether the White Mamba in this case was actually drugs.
The DEA in March put five of the most common chemical compounds for synthetic marijuana on its watch list. While the agency is looking into blocking the sale of all of the variants, for now every compound has to be named individually to be blacklisted at the federal level.
States can also pass laws to ban all forms, or analogs, of a substance, but not every state has exercised this option. Wisconsin has banned all forms. Illinois outlaws nine known, specific forms of synthetic marijuana but has no law banning all the variants. For more about the process of declaring a substance illegal, click .
Gengler said if investigators suspected illegal substances were being sold, they would do surveillance and attempt to get some of the products tested.
“If it comes back as a legal substance, there’s no law against it,” Gengler said. “There’s no law we can arrest them for.”
St. Charles Patch Editor Nick Swedberg contributed to this report.
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