ROGERSVILLE — A two-month investigation into synthetic drug sales in Rogersville climaxed Friday night with Hawkins County Sheriff’s Office raids occurring simultaneously at two retail stores involving several arrests and seizure of cash and products.
Hawkins County Sheriff Ronnie Lawson said he believes a total of at least 10 people were arrested from both raids, but the number and names won’t be available until Monday, as will the specifics on how much cash, synthetic drugs, and other items were confiscated.
Lawson said the investigation began about two months ago when he had his deputies purchase synthetic drugs at two locations in Rogersville, including the Rogersville Tobacco Outlet located just off of Route 66 at 125 Stapleton Lane, Suite 3; and the Liberty Market, 1100 East Main St.
Those materials were sent to the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation crime lab for analysis.
The results of that analysis allegedly revealed the synthetic drug materials being sold at both stores contained ingredients listed as outlawed in Tennessee Code Annotated.
Makers of synthetic marijuana and other synthetic drugs such as bath salts have attempted to skirt state law and continue selling the materials by changing the formula of the synthetic materials using ingredients that have not yet been outlawed.
Lawson said synthetic drugs sold at both the Rogersville Tobacco Outlet and Liberty Market did contain outlawed ingredients, however.
“We started seeing a lot of traffic at these two businesses, and that’s when we started our undercover operation a couple of months ago,” said Lawson, who personally participated in Friday’s raids. “We’ve been waiting on our lab results to get back, and even though we were coming off a major meth lab investigation and the men hadn’t had much rest, we decided to go ahead and take action Friday night rather than let this activity go on one more day. These two businesses are free to continue selling gasoline and cigarettes and other legal products, but they won’t be selling synthetic drugs anymore.”
Lawson said that deputies executed both search warrants around 9 p.m. Friday, and store employees were arrested along with customers.
Officers remained at both stores until early Saturday morning.
With two major cases occurring one right after the other, Lawson said there hadn’t been time to compile a press release with specific information about who was arrested Friday and what was seized.
“More and more the bath salts and synthetic pot are becoming the go-to drugs for people who don’t have the money to get pills or meth,” Lawson said. “In a very short time we’ve seen it grow from occasional isolated incidents to an epidemic. We’re seeing it impact our schools and our communities, and my officers are making a lot of arrests involving these substances.”
The Liberty Market is located literally within a stone’s throw of Hawkins Elementary School and Rogersville Middle School.
Rogersville Police Department Chief Doug Nelson said witnesses have told his officers that Cherokee High School students congregate at the Rogersville Tobacco Outlet after school and synthetic drugs are purchased.