In what could be a major break in a months-long investigation into the sale of designer drugs in Lexington, narcotics officers last week arrested a man suspected of manufacturing synthetic marijuana in his home and supplying it to local retailers.
George Albert Corbett III, 35, is charged with two counts of trafficking in controlled substances and two counts of possession of drugs. According to court records, police found evidence of synthetic cannabis and several bags of synthetic cathinones, widely known as bath salts, when the Narcotics Enforcement Unit executed a search warrant at Corbett's Argyle Drive home Thursday.
Officers also found hallucinogenic mushrooms and marijuana, leading to the two possession charges, according to a uniform citation filed in Fayette District Court on Friday.
Corbett has pleaded not guilty. He is lodged in the Fayette County jail on $53,100 bond and is scheduled to return to court Aug. 27.
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Police spokeswoman Sherelle Roberts said Corbett's arrest was related to a series of "enforcement operations" by narcotics officers over the last several months. Police have executed search warrants and issued citations at tattoo parlors, convenience stores and tobacco shops where synthetic marijuana and bath salts were evidently being sold, according to court documents and police reports.
Roberts said evidence led police to Corbett's home Thursday, where investigators found a lab set-up typically used to make illicit chemical mixtures.
Synthetic marijuana is typically created by mixing chemicals that mimic the effects of THC, the active ingredient in marijuana, Roberts said. Leaves from another type of plant are then saturated with the chemical mixture, packaged and sold.
"If you are fairly good at chemistry and you know what the formula is, you can just mix up a batch of this," she said.
Corbett's arrest followed searches Wednesday at two retailers police suspected of selling synthetic marijuana — Happy Smell Good on Eastland Parkway and The Botany Bay on Winchester Road.
According to a police report, dozens of packages of synthetic marijuana were confiscated from Happy Smell Good. It was unclear whether synthetic drugs were found at Botany Bay. Roberts said police found narcotics and other illegal items, but she would not elaborate. According to Botany Bay's Facebook page, police "seized a lot of our glass tobacco accessories."
In June, police confiscated items and charged workers at Six Brothers Market at on Sixth Street, Hypnotik Tattoos on Woodhill Drive and Wasted Daze Novelties on Eastland Parkway. (Wasted Daze shut down after the search, in which suspected synthetic drugs and thousands of dollars in cash were seized. Happy Smell Good opened in Wasted Daze's former space.)
At the time of the June crackdown, police Lt. Brian Maynard said the increased focus on synthetic drugs was a result of investigators "being diligent" following House Bill 461, which became law this year.
HB461 more clearly defines what substances are banned. Before, synthetic drugs were declared illegal based on their chemical makeup, and it was relatively easy for manufacturers to exploit loopholes in the law by altering the chemical composition of the substance, Maynard said.
Synthetic drugs recently became a nationwide public health concern as they began turning up in gas stations and shops, often being sold as incense, potpourri or bath salts.
Maynard noted national news stories about naked, rambling synthetic drug users, some of whom committed violent crimes. He said police have seen similar instances here, such as naked people thought to be high on bath salts breaking into homes.
There are typically at least two or three ambulance runs per week for users overdosing on synthetic marijuana and bath salts. The drugs can attack the central nervous system and cause a range of problems, including heart attacks.
"We've seen the effects it has caused, and we want to prevent that," Maynard said.