DA cracks down on sale of “spice”

LEMON GROVE – The Best $1 store on Broadway sells everything from coffee to lip gloss. And until recently, they were also hawking “spice” – herbs coated with chemicals to produce a marijuana-type high.

But the store was breaking the law. “I think it was in full plain view,” says Deputy District Attorney Stephen Spinella, “basically behind the sales counter.”

Last year, sales of “spice” and the synthetic stimulant known as “bath salts” became illegal in California. Medical experts warned they were dangerous – they elevating blood pressure, heart rates, and in some cases have caused heart attacks, seizures, and even death.

Stores that were selling the stuff got a warning. “We got together (and) sent letters to the different stores,” said District Attorney Bonnie Dumanis on Good Morning San Diego on Thursday, “and said 'This is illegal, don't sell it, we don't want to have to anything, but we will.”

A promise fulfilled when this store in lemon grove ignored the law… in march and April of this year.. undercover deputies made secret buys on nine occasions.

“I think law enforcement wanted to see how widespread this was at the store, whether they were going to purchase spice every time they were asked to do it,” says Spinella, “and indeed the nine buys they were able to purchase spice each time.”

The undercover investigators made some of those purchases with benefits offered by the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP – the assistance program formerly known as “food stamps.”

Those violations of the law led to a civil complaint by the District Attorney's office. But instead of taking the case to trial, prosecutor Stephen Spinella helped to work out a settlement to the tune of $54,000 dollars.

A costly lesson – the Best $1 Store is now a best example.

“It's meant to send a message in the community that this kind of misconduct is not going to be tolerated, and businesses will be held accountable.” “Now we have settled with them,” says Dumanis, “we want to send a message to other stores that we haven't forgotten about this.”

“And we will keep an eye out.”

There's a lot of gray area in the regulation of spice and other synthetic drugs. That's because the makers of these substances are constantly finding ways to change the formulas. – managing to stay just one step ahead of law enforcement.

As a result, laws vary. In California, they're illegal. In some states, they're not. And in places like Duluth, Minnesota, for example, the city has a novel ordinance that requires a license to sell synthetic drugs.



Sasha Foo

Categories: KUSI