DA Stops Sale of Dangerous Synthetic Drug by Using Civil Penalties


Courtesy DA Office

San Diego County District Attorney Bonnie Dumanis announced civil settlements today in separate consumer protection cases against two local smoke shops that were illegally selling Spice, a dangerous synthetic drug banned by the State of California. Smoke Zone in Pacific Beach and Outer Limits in Oceanside each agreed to a permanent injunction prohibiting the sale of Spice and have also agreed to pay civil penalties. Smoke Zone will pay $24,600 and Outer Limits will pay $33,750. Judgments were entered on these stipulations by the San Diego Superior Court.


Since January 2012, selling synthetic cannabinoid compounds (psychoactive bath salts and certain herbal incenses) has been illegal in California. Spice, as it is known, is made with chemicals imported from China and mixed with acetone. Then it’s sprayed on plant material so that the end product even looks like marijuana. With absolutely no regulation over this illicit manufacturing, Spice is freely flowing into distribution networks that supply smoke shops, convenience stores and other retailers, where the substance is billed as “legal pot.” The entire scenario culminates in news reports of a string of overdoses sending victims to the emergency room or an early grave. Last winter, several local news organizations reported 13 people falling ill after smoking Spice in downtown San Diego.


Individuals who have ingested Spice have been taken to Poison Control Centers with symptoms that include rapid heart rate, vomiting, agitation, confusion, and hallucinations. Spice can also raise blood pressure and cause reduced blood supply to the heart. Still, a number of convenience stores, smoke shops and other retailers have continued to sell the drug despite the new law making it illegal. Some of the brand names under which “Spice” is sold include Mr. Nice Guy, California Dreams, Scooby Snax, Green Buddha, 24K and Nuclear Bomb.


“This designer drug has been shown to be dangerous, and in some cases, deadly,” DA Dumanis said. “Our Consumer Protection Unit has been warning stores not to sell these illegal substances. Through civil actions, we’re working to protect the public by holding retailers accountable when they ignore the law.”


The District Attorney’s Office also filed a civil complaint against Inner World, another smoke shop in Oceanside found to be selling Spice and obtained a temporary restraining order to prevent it from continuing to sell the illegal substance. The San Diego Superior Court will consider turning the Temporary Restraining Order into a preliminary injunction on May 27.


Previously, the Drug Enforcement Administration and the U.S. Naval Criminal Investigative Service conducted a series of undercover operations at these businesses, which revealed they were selling synthetic marijuana that contained chemicals banned under state law or controlled substances banned under federal law. Although the District Attorney’s Office has announced previous injunctions and civil penalties obtained against retailers selling Spice in San Diego County, a number of local smoke shops have continued to sell it.


Since 2013, there have been nine enforcement actions against retailers, four of which have settled, resulting in injunctions and civil penalties totaling $136,028.  The current cases against Smoke Zone, Outer Limits and Inner World were handled by Deputy District Attorney Steve Spinella and Special Prosecutor Tom Papageorge.


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