Sheriff asking store owners to pull synthetic marijuana

PINELLAS COUNTY — Pinellas County sheriff’s deputies are visiting convenience stores passing out a letter.

It asks store owners to voluntarily take synthetic marijuana products off their shelves.

The products are commonly referred to as Spice, K2, incense and loose-leaf incense.

Under a new Florida law that went into effect Monday, 92 chemicals have been added to a list of previously banned synthetic marijuana substances.

Detectives say that isn’t stopping the manufacturers.

“They’re preying on the kids and preying on the people who want to use it, because they’re playing this whack-a-mole game,” Sheriff Bob Gualtieri said. “The whack-a-mole game is that the Legislature bans the chemical substances, so they alter the compound, and they alter it slightly to take it outside of what’s banned.

“And then the Legislature bans it again, and then they alter the compound. This really needs to stop.”

Deputies said that if some convenience store owners refuse to voluntarily comply, they will enforce the law.

But another problem is it’s hard to tell just from looking at the product which ones are illegal.

Detectives say they have to send the substance off for testing to see if it includes one of the banned chemicals.

Gulf Boulevard convenience store owner Nazih Tageddine said when the products first came on the market they were a big moneymaker.

“You pay a dollar, you sell it for $10, That’s the problem people don’t want to stop selling it because the profit margin is really, Really big,” Tageddine said.

But when the dangers of the products came to light, Taggedine’s store stopped selling them.

“You hear all these things people getting hurt, people dying and I want to go home and sleep at night. I don’t want to feel bad that somebody died from my store,” Tageddine said.

Deputies say they have approximately 300 to 400 convenience stores to visit in the county. They’re hoping store owners will agree to participate in the voluntary program.

“I think the majority of them want to do the right thing, They’re just looking for a level playing field, so we’re going to make every effort to provide that level playing field,” Gualtieri said. “But if some businesses don’t then, there’s going to be consequences for them.”

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