KANSAS CITY, Mo. — For some, April 20, or 4/20, is a marijuana holiday. But police and prosecutors see it another way.

Prosecutors and the Kansas City Police Department’s Vice Unit are reminding the community about illegal vape cartridges being sold at some gas stations and smoke shops. 

The effort is called Operation Delta-Free Youth, and the goal is to remove illegal THC vape cartridges from store shelves. 

“This is just the beginning,” Platte County Prosecutor Eric Zahnd said.

On Monday, Zahnd and the Clay County Prosecutor Dan White sent cease and desist letters to 18 stores in the Northland.

They declined to identify the currently identified offending locations by name, saying they preferred to allow the stores to have the opportunity to remove the illegal products first.

Undercover police officers bought vape cartridges advertised as containing THC and the products tested positive for THC.

The prosecutors said that, given Missouri’s legalization of medical marijuana and and other laws legalizing low-THC industrial hemp, some people may be confused about whether vaping cartridges containing THC are legal.

But Missouri law makes THC or synthetic substances similar in structure to THC illegal to possess or sell in Missouri. They’re hoping to set the record straight through Operation Delta-Free Youth.

“We’re not done yet. During our initial visits, we observed multiple sales to people who appeared to be minors without any attempt to ascertain the buyer’s age, which is another violation of the law,” Sgt. Brad Dumit of KCPD’s Vice Unit said. “We intend to visit each of the original locations to see if they’ve complied with the prosecutors’ demands, and we will also conduct covert operations in other stores soon.”

Police said the products are often marketed as containing Delta-8 or THC, which is the main psychoactive ingredient in marijuana.

“There’s a common misperception that these THC-containing vape products are legal in Missouri, and that’s what it is — a misperception,” Zahnd said. “Those are illegal in the state of Missouri, and today we are beginning to take action against those products.”

Zahnd said it’s an effort to keep illegal products out of the hands of youth, who he said are particularly at risk from the dangers of marijuana use. 

“Based on reports from community members and high school administrators and teachers that vape products have become one of the go-to products for teenagers still in schools,” Zahnd said, “and we know that some of those products contain illegal THC.”

Police and prosecutors thanked members of the Northland Coalition for urging shops to take action against the THC products. The Northland Coalition is a group that promotes drug use prevention in schools and communities in Clay, Platte and Ray counties.

Vicky Ward, manager of prevention and wellness for Tri-County Mental Health Services, helps lead the 21 Northland prevention coalitions, with the support of their local school districts.

“Teens are turning to vape products for numerous reasons,” Ward said. “A goal of prevention is to reduce the risk factors that contribute to youth substance use. Since the adolescent brain is not fully developed until the mid-twenties, addiction can happen more quickly.”

Police and prosecutors urged other locations with similar products in Clay and Platte counties to also rid their shelves of THC products before Operation Delta-Free Youth expands. 

If the products containing THC or a similar controlled substance are not removed, Zahnd said they’ll file criminal cases. 

He encourages all stores in Missouri to act. Otherwise, the letters mention possible search warrants. 

Operation Delta-Free Youth did not seek enforcement against any dispensary licensed by the state of Missouri to sell controlled substances including marijuana.

“We hope that today, by educating them about the fact that these products are illegal in Missouri, stores will take action and remove these items from shelves,” Zahnd said.

Zahnd said businesses could be fined up to $20,000. And people selling illegal products could face four years in jail, maybe more.