Santa Clarita Deputies Seize Spice In Castaic, Saugus Headshop Operation
Santa Clarita Valley Sheriff’s Station deputies seized more than 1,500 packets of alleged “spice,” or illegal synthetic marijuana, and issued two citations as the result of an investigation into four Santa Clarita Valley tobacco and head shops, officials said Wednesday.
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Spice is a synthetic marijuana that has a number of potentially dangerous side effects, according to the National Institute of Drug Abuse.
“It’s illegal to possess it for sale and to sell it, and it’s illegal for a minor to possess,” said Sgt. Bob Wachsmuth, an investigator for the Sheriff’s Station’s J-Team.
The station’s Juvenile Intervention Team investigates most drug-related offenses in the Santa Clarita Valley, and also works with officials and juvenile offenders in an effort to rehabilitate, as well as prevent, drug-related crime.
"Spice has always been a worry for us here at Action, especially with the young kids," said Cary Quashen, founder of the Santa Clarita Valley's largest drug treatment facility, Action Family Counseling.
"A lot of young kids are figuring out, spice won't come up on a (drug) test," he said, adding some organizations, such as Action have now developed tests for synthetic cannibinoids, the drug's active ingredient.
"It's known to causes overdoses, psychotic breaks -- it's really a scary drug," he said, adding part of the gamble when a user tries the drug is that the ingredients are not always well-defined."
"It's a gamble," he said.
About two weeks ago, a KHTS AM-1220 employee purchased a product billed as spice from Angie’s Smoke Shop in Castaic, at 31755 Castaic Road, where the employee offered advice on the purchase.
KHTS AM-1220 attempted to purchase spice from the Castaic Smoke Shop. Store officials there did not sell the product, but directed the would-be buyer to a location down the road.
Sheriff’s Station officials said they could not confirm whether the stores a KHTS AM-1220 employee purchased the alleged spice is the same as the ones they visited, and they're not yet identifying the two businesses that were cited.
Four locations were visited -- three in Castaic and one in Saugus. No arrests were made, officials said.
While Sheriff’s Station officials are confident they’ve seized the illegal form of the drug, it’s a bit of a gray area, legally speaking. There is unregulated spice and illegal spice, which are in separate categories, Wachsmuth said.
The state’s Legislature has a narrowly defined list of chemicals that must be present in order for officials to prosecute; however, spice manufacturers are able to avoid this by changing up their ingredients, he explained.
A lab analysis will confirm whether officials seized the illegal versions of the drugs.
The citations are issued to the store employee behind the counter when the allegedly illicit sales were made, per state law, Wachsmuth said.
Whether the store owners take responsibility in court is up to the respective business owners.
The reason Sheriff’s Station officials are withholding which businesses were found in violation is part of a challenge in enforcing the state’s laws against spice, Wachsmuth said.
There’s a degree of false advertising involved, as well, according to NIDA officials.
“Labels on spice products often claim that they contain ‘natural’ psycho-active material taken from a variety of plants,” according to NIDA’s website. “Spice products do contain dried plant material, but chemical analyses show that their active ingredients are synthetic (or designer) cannabinoid compounds.”
California Health and Safety Code Section 11357.5 makes it illegal for any person to sell, dispense, distribute, offer to sell, or possess for sale any synthetic cannabinoid compound, or any synthetic cannabinoid derivative. This misdemeanor crime can be punishable by imprisonment in a county jail, a substantial fine or both.
Another product found in the locations are very believable product replicas commonly used to hide valuables or narcotics, Wachsmuth said.
The products -- such as a Coca Cola bottle that appears to be filled with the soft drink, but actually twists open to reveal a hidden container -- might not be explicitly illegal, Wachsmuth said, but he wanted parents to be aware of the products.
“They’ve got (fake) Ajax cans that you can twist off the (false) bottom,” Wachsmuth said, noting the products are likely a trademark infringement. “It’s not illegal -- they’re containers, but predominantly, they’re used to hide drugs.”
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