Craven County Sheriff


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Craven County Sheriff
Craven County Sheriff

The Craven County Sheriff’s Office held a press conference on Jan. 17 to talk about a recent issue they’ve launched an investigation into: Tobacco and vape stores using illegal items to target children.

In some cases, these items are causing children to seek emergency medical attention.

Craven County Sheriff Chip Hughes said their investigation began back in October 2023 when concerned parents came to the sheriff’s office with items that were later identified as containing copious amounts of THC, confiscated from their children.

The operation was initiated with special agents from the Secretary of State Office and alcohol law enforcement from the state. Now, the sheriff’s office is also working with officials from the Marine Corps Air Station at Cherry Point to ensure illegal items from vape and tobacco stores don’t make their way into the hands of service members.

Additionally, their office has seen support in this investigation from the Craven County Commissioners. Commissioner Sherry Hunt accompanied officers as they performed some of their search warrants.

“The stuff you’ll see here is targeted for sale and use with our youth, Hughes said. “When you see items like Oreo cookies, Fruity Pebbles, and Girl Scout cookies, these are some of the flavors they have on some of these illegal products. All of these, which have high concentrations of THC in some cases, the active ingredient in marijuana, they’re having effects on our children.”

Every confiscated product that was sent to an independent lab came back hot, or illegal, containing more THC than as labeled on the package, according to Sheriff Hughes.

Throughout their investigation, the sheriff’s office has seized prescription medication, contact lenses, synthetic urine, nitrous oxide canisters, cigar splitters, over 15 pounds of marijuana, digital scales, illegal electronic gambling sweepstakes machines, bong pipes, and even firearms from vape and tobacco shops in Craven County.

They also seized a total of $13,000, which was contributed to the sale of illegal marijuana, according to Hughes. Per North Carolina law, this currency will be handed over to the school system and has been reported to the NC Department of Revenue.

Many of these seizures occurred on Oct. 26, 2023, when officers simultaneously served six search warrants at various stores.

“In one case, we had a firearm that had a felon working at a permitted establishment; these are clearly in violation of many laws, but also alcohol beverage control law,” Hughes said. “With these places being permitted establishments, we’re going to make sure that their ABC permits are going to be pulled as well.”

Additionally, many items in these stores are counterfeit and trademarked products, using recognizable brand names and logos to label illegal products.

To date, over 84 criminal charges have been filed regarding this investigation, including illegal possession of a firearm by a felon and felony possession with the intent to manufacture, sell, and deliver marijuana. With this being an ongoing investigation, additional charges will be forthcoming, according to Sheriff Hughes.

To date, two tobacco and vape stores in Craven County have been shut down due to this investigation, according to Hughes.

Hughes explained that when officers first approached stores selling these illegal items, they started with educational efforts and warnings. After visiting stores to inform them about which products are illegal to carry, officers began issuing charges when they kept seeing the same violations.

“Everything you see here, this isn’t a result of just, you did it one time, and we’re holding you accountable, this is after multiple warnings,” Hughes said, “So, these people had ample warnings, many, and now they’re facing criminal charges because they didn’t want to come into compliance with the law and they wanted to continue to sell this poison to our kids.”

Hughes said there have been numerous cases of children ingesting edibles or other illegal products purchased at vape stores and suffering from the medical effects of those products.

Just a few days before the press conference, one child from a middle school in Craven County had to be taken to urgent care after ingesting an edible from a local vape store, according to Hughes.

“There’s not a level of moderation [in these products], so it’s much more dangerous children because they’re much smaller, they don’t have a tolerance for this kind of stuff, and then, just that these things are so packed full of chemicals that are dangerous to them,” Hughes said.

Even though it’s illegal for anyone under the age of 21 to purchase products from a vape or tobacco store, children are still able to get their hands on them.

Sometimes, children can get into products purchased by an adult if they’re left lying around. Children have also bribed adults with money to purchase items for them, or underage children have been able to purchase products directly from vape and tobacco stores. Hughes advises parents to be vigilant and aware of any products their children may be coming home with.

“Be aware of anything that your child brings home. Just some of these products could sit on a desk or an end table in your child’s room and not look out of place,” he said. “If you didn’t know what you were looking for, you would pass it over several times.”

He went on to extend the offer that any parent in Craven County can contact the sheriff’s office if they find something that looks suspicious, and an officer will come out to make sure the product is legal.

Craven County Sheriff’s Office is at 1100 Clarks Rd., New Bern. Individuals can contact the sheriff’s office at (252) 636-6620.

Reporter Caramia Valentin can be reached at [email protected]

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