A multi-agency crackdown of synthetic drug sellers revealed that, despite a county ban, some stores continue to sell K2.
Representatives from the Hillsborough County Consumer Protection Agency, Code Enforcement and Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office launched an investigation targeting retailers found to be in blatant violation of the county ordinance banning the manufacturing, possession, production, distribution, use or sale of synthetic drugs.
So far, investigators identified at least 10 shops in Hillsborough County that have knowingly sold the dangerous synthetic drugs.
On Aug. 14, authorities at Hillsborough County Code Enforcement began serving notice, in-person and via certified mail, to more than eight of the worst offenders.
Two stores that were known as repeat offenders, Alpa Chino Smoke Shop and Hookah Lounge, and neighboring Country Food Store in Seffner, were among those served with Notice of Violation letters.
The Country Food Store, part of a CITGO Gas Station, has amassed potential civil fines in excess of $1.2 million dollars. Additionally, violation letters stipulate that the store owners must appear before a special magistrate at 9 a.m. Sept. 20 on the second floor of the Frederick B. Karl County Center.
The penalty for the sale of banned synthetic drugs is $500 per packet and up to $1,000 per day for being in violation of Hillsborough County Ordinance 13-3.
Investigators characterized the sale of synthetic drugs as a "national problem" and promised to hold violators accountable.
Authorities have long known of the toxic dangers of man-made marijuana, known as K2. Also known by dozens of street names such as "Jazz," "Hush," "Spice" and "Stardust," the potent and chemically laden substance is packaged in colorful packets that often look like candy. Following the passing of Ordinance 13-3, the Hillsborough County Consumer Protection Agency saw an avalanche of complaints, and joined forces with the Hillsborough County Sheriff's Office and Code Enforcement to visit more than 40 retail locations.
While official notice to cease the sale of the synthetic drugs was served under due process, investigators discovered that many retailers simply began to operate underground. Customers had to know an insider phrase or password in order to make a purchase.
To report a synthetic drug concern or violation to authorities, contact Hillsborough County's Consumer Protection Agency at 813-903-3430 or Crime Stoppers 1-800-873-TIPS. Consumer complaints can also be made online.
More information on Ordinance 13-3 banning synthetic drugs is available online.