Police on Tuesday raided two convenience stores whose owners are accused of selling synthetic marijuana that led to multiple overdoses over the past 11 days.
Elyria and Lorain police and the Lorain County Drug Task Force searched Lorain Deli, 2225 W. 21st St., and 611 Market, 1550 Colorado Ave., starting around 10:30 a.m.
Walid Habbas, 54, owner of Lorain Deli, was arrested on a drug trafficking charge. Another man was taken into custody at 611 Market and Elyria police Capt. Chris Costantino said charges are pending, but he declined to offer more details.
Costantino said evidence was taken from the stores but more information wouldn’t be available until today.
At the time of the arrest, Habbas could be heard telling police he didn’t know the product he was selling was illegal while also opining that the United States is a police state. The Synthetic Drug Abuse Prevention Act outlawed synthetic marijuana, substances with chemicals that mimic the effects of marijuana, in 2012.
Costantino said an investigation into the stores began after Elyria resident Jeffrey Perkins Jr., 19, was charged with three counts of felonious assault after being accused of supplying the substance to three of five people who overdosed over Independence Day weekend.
Nine people overdosed between July 4 and July 11, seven of whom were admitted to hospitals for several days. Two people are still at University Hospitals Elyria Medical Center and Mercy Regional Medical Center in Lorain after overdoses last weekend, police said.
Two of the nine people who overdosed were younger than 18, sent to Rainbow Babies and Children’s Hospital and later released.
According to information provided by police, synthetic marijuana, sometimes called spice, can be 16 times more potent than marijuana and is known to cause vomiting, seizures, psychotic episodes, hallucinations and extreme changes in behavior.
It is also known to cause heart problems and has a tendency to be highly addictive, police said.
“It’s a dangerous drug, and it’s certainly something that we need to get off the streets,” Costantino said.
This isn’t the first run-in the 611 Market has had with police. The store was raided in June, and owner Ziyad Hirbawi was charged with receiving stolen property after an investigation determined he was buying and selling stolen goods.
Lorain police Capt. Roger Watkins said the parking lot of the 611 Market is known for criminal activity, and in 2013, a man overdosed on heroin there.
“We’ve had constant complaints of heroin usage and sales in the parking lot,” Watkins said. “This is obviously a problem in the city of Lorain.”
Costantino commended both police departments for working together on Tuesday’s drug bust.
“We’re sending a very strong message that this activity is not going to be tolerated in our communities,” he said.