A day after Polk County made the sale of synthetic marijuana a third-degree felony, worried Tampa Bay convenience store owners scrambled Wednesday to find out if the ban applied to them.
Randy Heine temporarily pulled K2 off the shelf.
"I e-mailed (Pinellas) Sheriff (Jim) Coats this morning asking him what his intentions are," said Heine, who sells K2 from his Rockin Cards & Gifts store in Pinellas Park.
Others questioned Jeff Ruben, general manager of A&J Distributing in Pinellas Park. His company was one of the first to offer the substance locally.
“Are we still okay?" Ruben said more than a handful of convenience store owners asked him. "Is it just Polk County?"
In Pasco, the panicking was for naught. Officials say they don't plan to follow Polk's lead. "We're not sure that's the intent of the statute," said Pasco County sheriff's spokesman Kevin Doll.
Pinellas is still reviewing the matter. "We are addressing the issue with our staff and the State Attorney's Office," Sgt. Tom Nestor said.
Hernando County sheriff's Sgt. Donna Black said her agency was not ready to make a statement, and Hillsborough sheriff's spokeswoman Debbie Carter did not respond to a request for comment by press time.
In Polk County, convenience store owners can be prosecuted under a state law that prohibits the distribution of "imitation controlled substances … which by express or implied representations, purports to act like a controlled substance."
The charge is punishable by up to five years in prison.
Polk officials felt a crackdown was necessary after someone broke into a Winter Haven store on Oct. 22 and stole $900 worth of K2.
"There are other instances where people have become very ill as a result of ingesting it," Polk sheriff's spokeswoman Donna Wood said. "We see it as a growing problem and concern."
Robert Batey, a criminal law professor at Stetson University College of Law, said it's not law enforcement's place to legislate.
"It's not the function of a police officer (to say) that's bad behavior and it ought to be against the law," he said. "That's the job for the Legislature."