When Springfield police busted a major pot growing operation last week on one of the city’s busiest streets, they found more than just plants.
In addition to pot, police last Thursday found more than 20 pounds of edible marijuana-laced products when they searched the home of Zachary Pierson and his mother, who lived next door to him on 400 block West Cook Street, said Lt. Brian Oakes. The edibles ranged from potato chips to hot fries to cereal, packaged in professional-looking containers with labels that were take-offs of legitimate snacks and other food products.
Police also found packaging material and unused labels, including labels featuring a stoner’s version of Cap’n Crunch, complete with bloodshot eyes. Chronic Berries. Holdin’ Grams. Weedz-its. And, of course, Dorweedoz.
“Instead of Cheetos, it says ‘Weed-o’s,’” says Oakes, who said he’s never seen anything like this during his 20-year career as a cop. “It is amazing.”
The edible cannabis products were made by spraying pot-infused oil onto popcorn and other food, Oakes said. Police weren’t expecting to find a grocery store of illegal edibles when they searched a former dry cleaning shop at the intersection of South Grand Avenue and South Eighth Street, where they found more than 950 plants and several pounds of harvested marijuana. Oakes said that the operation included a sophisticated ventilation system that rid the area of smells during the night, when no one was the wiser.
“They thought of everything,” Oakes said. “The hard work that they put into this was impressive. Not just anybody could do this. You had to know what you were doing.”
The investigation began in late July and started with a tip, Oakes said. Surveillance of the South Grand Avenue location took a significant amount of time to build the case, he said. Utility bills that averaged $1,340 per month at the former dry cleaning shop, which was boarded up, was a piece of the puzzle, but not a main factor he said.
The surprise came when police searched Pierson’s home and his mother’s house next door and found the edibles, labels and packaging material, Oakes said. The investigation is continuing to determine where the products may ultimately have been sold, he said. The case, he said, likely will be turned over to federal authorities for prosecution.
Jack Campbell, director of the state’s medical marijuana program, said via email that regulators have found no cases of black market cannabis products being sold in licensed dispensaries. Regulators conduct both scheduled and unscheduled inspections to ensure dispensaries operate within the law, Campbell wrote, and all products labeled and tracked to ensure that products are legally grown or manufactured.
“Every item for sale in a dispensary is entered into the traceability system and is monitored up to the point of sale to a qualified patient,” Campbell wrote. “Non-compliant items would be caught during these inspections. In addition, cameras inside all licensed facilities add another layer of security to ensure non-compliant products do not reach patients.”
Pierson and Scott Foster, who also is suspected of running the illegal pot-growing operation, were arraigned in state court yesterday on an array of charges ranging from conspiracy to illegal manufacture of marijuana to conspiracy. At last report, they remained in jail in lieu of $200,000 bond.
Jon Gray Noll, a criminal defense attorney, said he’s never heard of a case like this. He said he’s neither defended anyone suspected of trafficking in edible cannabis products nor heard of any such cases until now.
“Unheard of,” Noll said. “I’ve been an attorney since 1973. If we saw it in the courthouse, we’d all be chuckling about it.”