Pubdate: Sat, 29 Jul 2006
Source: Baltimore Sun (MD)
Copyright: 2006 The Baltimore Sun, a Times Mirror Newspaper.
Author: John-John Williams IV, Sun reporter
Bookmark: (Marijuana)
Bookmark: (Cocaine)
Bookmark: (Ecstasy)
Bookmark: (Hallucinogens)


Most of the time, police aren't surprised when they find a ballpoint
pen crammed with cocaine, or illicit pills stashed in a secret
compartment of a running shoe. But when a bag full of smiley-faced
gumballs hollowed out and stuffed like mushrooms with marijuana were
confiscated early this year at a Howard County high school and last
week in Northern Virginia, it took authorities by surprise.

"This is very unique," said Edward Marcinko, special agent and public
information officer for the Baltimore District Office of the Drug
Enforcement Administration. "It is very alarming to see this."

The case in Howard County was so unusual that Marcinko's office sent
out a nationwide alert to inform other law enforcement agencies of
what may be a new, smokeless way to consume marijuana that is
especially appealing to young users.

Howard County police arrested three 17-year-old students at Howard
High School Jan. 11 after a teacher observed a drug transaction. Two
of the students were charged with distribution of drugs on school
property; a third was charged with possession of marijuana.

The gumballs, which are an inch in diameter and contained a gram of
marijuana, were wrapped in tin foil and labeled as "Greenades." The
label also contained instructions that read: "Take 30 mins - 1 hr
before you would like receive your high" and "chew for as long as
possible, then swallow."

Howard County police officers have not been able to determine where
the students obtained the gumballs, according to police spokeswoman
Sherry Llewellyn.

"They were packaged in a commercial-type wrapper," Llewellyn said.
"These are not something that the kids made in their basement."

Last Saturday, the Arlington County Police Department arrested a man
after they discovered 30 gumballs stuffed with brown THC, the compound
that causes the intoxicating effect in marijuana, in the home of a
20-year-old Arlington man.

These smiley-face gumballs were more potent than the ones in Howard
County because THC was the sole ingredient used to fill the candy,
according to Arlington County Police Department spokesman Detective
Steve Gomez.

"We're told that in this form it is six times more potent than if you
were smoking marijuana," Gomez said.

In addition to the 30 THC gumballs, several hundred unfilled yellow
gumballs were confiscated, along with materials used to insert the THC
into the candy, Gomez said.

Paul C. Cofer Jr. was charged with possession with intent to
distribute marijuana. He also was charged with burglary, assault and
battery, and brandishing a firearm. Cofer was released on $10,000 bond
on July 25. His next court appearance is Aug. 21.

Police who interviewed Cofer believe he was making the gumballs and
distributing them to others. Gomez said there is no apparent link
between Cofer and the Howard County arrests.

Marcinko said that DEA offices are noticing other cases involving
drug-laced candy in Utah and California, where chocolate candy bars
made with marijuana and LSD have been seized by law enforcement officers.

"It is a method to entice children through marketing," Marcinko
explained. "Children are going to want to try those items just like a
fancy shoe or baseball hat."

After working for the Drug Enforcement Administration for 20 years,
Gregory D. Lee's interest was piqued by the gumball arrests.

"You're only limited by your imagination and resources available to
you," said the retired Lee, who now works as a criminal justice
consultant in Doral, Fla. "Putting marijuana in a gumball is unique
and time consuming. But they figured it was worth the effort in
concealing what they were doing."

Most users prefer to smoke marijuana than eat it because smoked
marijuana affects the body at a faster rate, according to Michael
Gimbel, director of substance abuse education at Sheppard Pratt Health
System in Towson.

"The user may get frustrated and think that it might not take effect
and they will take more," said Gimbel, who warned that the effects of
eaten marijuana last longer than those of smoked marijuana.

Gimbel said he is most disturbed by the fact that the gumballs
appeared to be targeted toward younger users. "I can't say it's a
surprise in the sense of drug traffickers and dealers looking for a
new way to market their products," said Gimbel, who recalled the
popularity of marijuana baked into brownies during the late 1960s and
Ecstasy tablets made to look like candy and placed on necklaces a few
years ago. "They need to find new customers, and this is a way to find
new customers. This is very concerning."

If the candy catches on, it will only be a matter of time before drug
distributors find other ways to conceal the drugs in other candies
like Gummi bears, according to Gimbel.

"Can you imagine - if this continues - what Halloween will be like?"
Gimbel asked.

Candy is not the only way drugs are being concealed.

Katie, a recent graduate of a Howard County high school in Ellicott
City, said she used her bra to conceal her lithium, Xanax and Percocet
while in class.

Katie, who did wish to use her name and that of her high school, said
she would remove the underwire from her bra and slide pills in its
place. The whole process took about five minutes.

"It is a narrow opening but it is the perfect size," she said, adding
that she would pop her pills in class or in the bathroom. "If you wear
a sweat shirt, no one pays that much attention."

Katie said other students would take the ink out of ballpoint pens and
replace it with cocaine or ground-up pills; remove lipstick from
holders and replace it with pills; and slip pills into sneakers with
zippers on the side and baseball caps with secret compartments.

"It speaks to the creativity of this generation," said Katie, who was
surprised to learn about gumballs.

The most memorable method was used by classmates who removed the
makeup from compacts and replaced it with ground-up pills or cocaine.

"You can put a straight edge in there and you can snort it with that,"
said Katie, who added that her friends preferred to use their school
identification cards to make powder lines to snort.

"It's a matter of opportunity, what's around," she

Lee, the 20-year DEA veteran, said there are numerous Web sites
dedicated to "pro-drug crowds" that detail ways to conceal and consume

"The idea of the DEA monitoring these drug sites is not that
practical," Lee said. "It's almost impossible to keep up with the new
trends because they are so vast." 
- ---
MAP posted-by: Richard Lake