Monday, December 18, 2017
Public safety

Pasco deputies serve warnings of synthetic drug crackdown

PORT RICHEY — Without warning, the glass door at Georgia's Smoke Shop swung open. Five sheriff's deputies and a herd of reporters and photographers shuffled among glass cases of pipes, lighters and bongs in the tiny, incense-choked room. Owner Vickie Davis stood beside a rack of about 20 different kinds of synthetic marijuana, Spice or K2.

That's what deputies wanted to talk about.

They delivered a letter Wednesday morning saying the attorney general has given them more power to enforce laws against the drugs and tougher consequences for sellers. They went to 130 stores and shops in the county to hand out the letters and give store clerks a day of amnesty before penalties begin.

"You can't have it," said Detective Dennis Nottoli of the Pasco County Sheriff's Office vice and narcotics unit, jabbing a finger at the rack.

Davis' eyes opened wide. She spoke in a strained voice.

"Yes, sir," she said. "I'll just tell (the supplier) straight up: 'Come get this s---.' "

Last month, county commissioners approved an ordinance to outlaw types of synthetic marijuana on display for sale in places like convenience stores and gas stations where minors can see them.

On Tuesday, Attorney General Pam Bondi added more names to the list of banned substances that can't be sold in stores.

Any store that sells synthetic marijuana or bath salts will be fined $500 per bag of the drugs.

Stores with bongs and pipes on display will be required to post a sign with red block letters that read "DRUG PARAPHERNALIA INSIDE NO ONE UNDER 18 MAY ENTER." The ones that allow minors inside while the paraphernalia is on display will be fined $500 per bong or pipe, the statute states.

"At $500 a pop, you do the math," Sheriff Chris Nocco said in a news conference earlier that morning. "These businesses won't be doing too well."

Back at Georgia's Smoke Shop, Lt. Chuck Balderstone pointed to a glass vial of green, leafy nuggets sitting on the shelf and asked Davis to bring it to him. He asked her to identify the substance. She began telling him that it was legal because it wasn't real marijuana. Balderstone cut her off. It wouldn't be legal anymore, he said.

Davis said customers stream into her shop all day asking about Spice. It makes her a "few thousand dollars" a week — about 50 percent of her profit. She said she's never sold to minors.

Sgt. Bill Davis (no relation) spoke up. He told her she had sold to minors and that he knew she had because some of those minors were working undercover with the Sheriff's Office. "Take that seriously," he told her, "or you're going to write a huge check to the county. We're not screwing around with this."

Alex Orlando can be reached at [email protected] or (727) 869-6247.

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