CEO of synthetic marijuana company arrested, released on bail

Hamilton police have arrested the chief executive of a Toronto-based synthetic marijuana company whose product was being sold in the city.
Adam Wookey leaves the John Sopinka courthouse after his appearance Friday afternoon. (Cory Ruf/CBC)

Hamilton police have arrested the chief executive of a Toronto-based synthetic marijuana company whose product was being sold in the city.

Adam Wookey, 28, of Toronto, CEO of The Izms and Purepillz, was arrested Friday morning in Hamilton without incident, according to police.

Sgt. Dave McKenzie, investigator on the case, said Wookey was arrested in Hamilton because police there took interest in the case first, had a head start with research, and took the lead in the case.

McKenzie said he started investigating in November, when no one knew much about the synthetic marijuana or "fake weed" product.

"It proliferated very quickly throughout Ontario," said McKenzie.

Wookey is charged with trafficking a controlled substance, "because he had the most knowledge of it being here," McKenzie said.

Wookey appeared in Hamilton court Friday afternoon. He wore a black suit with no tie, and had a casual demeanor when dealing with court officials. 

He was released with conditions on $5,000 bail. He is not allowed to possess IZMS paraphernalia or products, non-prescription controlled substances, or weapons.

He was also ordered to shut down his websites associated with The IZMS and Purepillz within 10 days.

His sister, Tessa Wookey, was at the court Friday. She told CBC Hamilton that she would not comment on the case or the future of the company. When asked how her family was doing, she replied, "terrible."

Adam Wookey is due to appear in court again on March 27.

Legal grey area

Synthetic cannabis, also known as synthetic cannabinoids, does not contain any real cannabis. It's a blend of herbs sprayed with man-made hallucinogens that mimic the effects of marijuana.

FAQ: Synthetic cannabis effects

  1. The short- and long-term effects are more potent than those of real cannabis. Researchers say synthetic cannabis can feel like using cocaine or LSD. Users can feel the effects within minutes or an hour of smoking the product, and those effects can last for several hours.
  2. Health Canada says symptoms associated with the use of products containing synthetic cannabinoids have been reported to include tachycardia, hypertension, chest pain, myoclonia, seizures, rhabdomyolysis, agitation, restlessness, hallucinations, acute psychosis, and vomiting.
  3. Long-term effects may include irritation of the respiratory passages (if smoked), cognitive changes and cognitive impairment, psychotic episodes, or schizophrenia in susceptible individuals. In February, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control issued a warning after finding that 16 synthetic marijuana users in six states suffered acute kidney injuries last year.

Synthetic marijuana is typically packaged in small pouches with brand names like 'Spice,' 'K-2' or 'IZMS.' The packages often say "not for human consumption" on the label.

Synthetic marijuana came under media scrutiny after an incident in January when a Hamilton man tried to rob an adult novelty store of the product.

In Canada, products claiming to be marijuana alternatives seem to exist in a legal grey area.

According to the RCMP’s Sgt. Ken Cornell, national chemical diversion co-ordinator with the RCMP’s drug branch, not all synthetic cannabinoids have been declared by Health Canada in schedule II of the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act (CDSA).

Although they may have a similar chemical structure and make-up, he notes, pharmacologically they react very differently in the body.

"This is likely where importers/users are trying to argue that their substances are unregulated," Cornell said in an emailed statement to CBC News in late February.

"Also confusion may come into play with police departments or detachments that are aware of some of the typical synthetic cannabinoids being declared and others not."

Health Canada says smoking synthetic cannabinoids can result in symptoms that range from seizures to hallucinations to acute psychosis.

Proponents of the product — also known as "spice," or K2 — stress that it is legal.

But Health Canada considers it a controlled substance if it gives the same effect as marijuana.

A statement from Hamilton Police on Friday said, "As of March 2013, Health Canada’s lab in Toronto considers that all chemical components seen by Health Canada to date relating to the production of synthetic cannabinoids are already regulated under the Controlled Drug and Substances Act (CDSA)."