Several local, state, and national law enforcement agencies served over 45 search warrants to area convenience stores and other businesses selling the synthetic marijuana substance known as “K2” on Tuesday morning.

Some of these included local businesses such as Kern’s Liquor and two nearby Conoco fuel stations located on the Independence-Kansas City border near U.S. 40 and Blue Ridge Cutoff. The businesses are under the same ownership.

“This is only the beginning and we will do whatever it takes to take it off the streets,” said Michael Hunt, Jackson County Prosecuting Attorney.

Beginning last spring, several citizens complained of users, both children and adults, becoming ill – some even overdosing – after abusing the synthetic marijuana.

“Synthetic marijuana causes serious injury and even children have died from overdosing,” Hunt said.

The Independence Police Department Drug Unit and Jackson County Drug Task Force initially began investigating the growing trend and eventually got the Kansas City Police Department involved as well. Ultimately the investigation branched out across state lines to Kansas as 20 other law enforcement agencies, including the Drug Enforcement Agency, Homeland Security and Missouri State Highway Patrol. Overland Park, Topeka and Shawnee police departments were some of the agencies participating on the Kansas side of the operation.

Synthetic marijuana is a mixture of spices, herbs and other plant material that is typically laced with a chemical similar to THC, the drug ingredient found in marijuana. The actual chemical component is shipped in from China as a powdered form, according to the Jackson County Drug Task Force. The powder is later converted to an aerosol and sprayed on the plant material of the product.

Ostensibly sold as incense under names such as “King Kong," “Atomic,” or “Spice,” the product is generally smoked as a substitute for a drug. The substance has similiar side effects to those found in marijuana, such as heart palpitations, high blood pressure, paranoia and hallcuinations.

Synthetic marijuana is illegal in Missouri. A Missouri statute prohibits the sale of the substance. The product is usually found behind the counter at some gas stations. According to Hunt, this shelving decision indicates that the proprietor is aware of its unlawfulness.

In order to obtain search warrants, undercover agents made more than 100 purchases of the synthetic drug over the past 10 months and analyzed its chemical composition to determine its legality.

The operation made more than 31 arrests during the warrant sweep; 24,000 packets of the substance were confiscated since the investigation began last spring, as well as $100,000 worth of funds that support the drug’s manufacturing operation. The synthetic marijuana distribution spans across 35 stores in the metropolitan area.

Hunt hopes this coordinated effort makes a “big impact” and “sends a message nationwide” to thwart convenience stores from selling synthetic marijuana.