MARTINS FERRY - A multi-jurisdictional drug raid spanning nearly 30 states across America found its way to a Belmont County community Wednesday morning.
At about 9 a.m., Federal Drug Enforcement Administration agents served hundreds of search warrants in connection with a nationwide synthetic marijuana investigation, which includes the sale, distribution and manufacturing of the product, according to Martins Ferry Police Chief John McFarland.
The federal probe reportedly centered around the form called "Spice" and originated in Colorado.
McFarland, along with members of the DEA office from Columbus, officers from Martins Ferry, the Belmont County Drug Task Force and the Belmont County Sheriff's Office converged on the Martins Ferry Carryout, 114 S. Fourth St.
The business was shut down for a period of time while law enforcement officials executed the search warrant.
It subsequently opened for business.
"We had enough evidence that this product was being shipped to the carryout here in Martins Ferry," he said. "As a result, we were able to obtain a search warrant and search the premises. We collected some evidence, and all the case information will be turned over to the proper authorities in Denver and here in Ohio. They will decide if, and what, charges will be filed."
While only a "minimal amount of product" was recovered, he said agents found what they were seeking.
"We found the evidence that we were looking for to show that shipments were being made to the carryout from Colorado," he said, citing receipts and invoices as the evidence. "We feel pretty comfortable with what we were able to accomplish today."
Wednesday's raid brings the number to five in Belmont County recently, and the second in Martins Ferry as the Martins Ferry Party Center the first. Other establishments temporarily closed included the Shadyside Carryout; Bob's Cheap Smokes in St. Clairsville; and the Bridgeport Party Center.
"From what I understand, those other establishments are currently in appeals court, but our goal is to treat them all the same," McFarland stressed. "We anticipate working with the (Ohio) attorney general's office in obtaining a civil case against the carryout as a nuisance."
McFarland said he also plans to attend the next city council meeting to inquire about the carryout's liquor license not being re-newed when up for renewal.
"If you're going to break the rules in Martins Ferry, you won't sell alcohol," he said.
"Hopefully, this sends another message to retailers. After all the cases we've had in the county, retailers should know not to get involved with the sale of synthetic marijuana. No matter what attorney from wherever says, don't believe them. Stay away from it or you'll get charged. It's got to stop.
"People have to understand that it's killing people. Just because it's sold over-the-counter or at a convenience store, it's not legal and it's not safe."
According to a report in the Denver Post Wednesday, DEA agents in Colorado and across the nation served warrants at homes, warehouses and smoke shops early in the morning.
DEA agents fanned out across the country making more than 150 arrests and served about 200 warrants, DEA spokesman Rusty Payne told the AP. The largest single operation was a statewide effort in Alabama, though agents also were active in 28 other states. Authorities also seized more than $20 million in cash and assets, the DEA said.