By Tamas Mondovics
More than a dozen store owners and clerks were charged with one felony count of “Possession and Sell of Controlled Substance-Analog” and felony count of “Maintaining a Store to Sell a Controlled Substance” following a recent operation conducted by Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office (HCSO) deputies and detectives.
Appropriately called “Operation All Smoked Up,” the county-wide cleanup seized approximately 1000 lbs. of synthetic marijuana (K2-Spice) packaged for retail sale and distribution with a street value estimated at over $500,000 deputies said.
According to HCSO detective, Larry McKinnon, multiple stores located in Tampa, Gibsonton, Brandon, Valrico, Riverview, Ruskin, Seffner and Lithia are on the hit list where deputies made arrests.
This operation has been in the making for some time as law enforcement personnel have been purchasing and testing the cleverly marketed and packaged substance mainly catering to the younger customers.
“K2 or Spice has been highly marketed and often packaged to appeal to young people, even though they are several times more potent than THC, the active ingredient in marijuana,” McKinnon said.
It was only months ago that Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office deputies, detectives, OSHA, EPA and Fire State Fire Marshal’s Office conducted an investigation of a Brandon area warehouse where, according to detectives, large quantities of K2 (synthetic marijuana), along with heavy amounts of chemicals being used to soak the K2 was being produced, packaged and distributed to the Tampa Bay market.
That operation was also the result of prior data collected by members of the Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office.
“We have been aware of such facilities for months and have tested the product for any safety hazards to the public,” McKinnon said.
As it has been reported by members of the media, the effort to pull such fake but dangerous drugs off the shelves was triggered by following Florida Governor Rick Scott’s signature on an amendment which added almost three dozen new chemical compounds to the list of prohibited, controlled substances, and established a new law that made the formerly legal herbal incense or synthetic cannabinoid known as K2, or Spice illegal to be sold at local stores.
K2, when smoked, mimics the effects of marijuana and has been sold at many local businesses, gas stations or convenience stores, packaged in colorful plastic bags, often found at the checkout counter available for purchase as easy as a pack of chewing gum.
Following Scott’s signature, the sale, intent to sell, delivery, manufacture or possession of such fake drugs has become a crime, a third degree felony, punishable by up to five years imprisonment and a $5,000 fine.
As the investigation continues, with more operations to come, McKinnon said that Hillsborough County Sheriff David Gee is committed to the children’s safety and that the department will continue to keep a close eye on this topic.
“We plead to the sense of morality,” McKinnon said. “We are asking the community to follow basic moral principles and to be responsible when it comes to our youth.”
For more information about the Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office, visit www.hcso.tampa.fl.us.