SUBURBAN WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. - A three-month investigation into the suspected sale of illegal "synthetic marijuana" resulted in the arrests Thursday of a suburban West Palm Beach smoke shop owner and a shop employee, the Palm Beach County Sheriff's Office said.
Deputies took shop owner Monica Lee, 37, and employee Hope Shipley, 27, into custody after alleging the two openly sold banned synthetic substances to undercover agents at A Hidden Treasure Smoke Shop in the 4400 block of Purdy Lane.
"Essentially, what it is is synthetic marijuana," said Lt. Dennis St. Cyr, of the sheriff's narcotics division, which started the investigation after receiving complaints about the store from area residents.
"In some cases, actually, what it is is like a potpourri that is sprayed chemicals, typically in China, and then they bag it up, send it over, and then they sell it as a legal alternative to marijuana," St. Cyr said.
Lee is charged with one count of unlawful possession of property for sale of a controlled substance, and one count of sale of a controlled substance. Shipley is charged with three counts of sale of a controlled substance.
All of the charges are felonies.
The shop was openly selling banned products such as the incenses Mr. Nice Guy, Spice and K2, St. Cyr said. It also allegedly kept what St. Cyr described as a "house blend" smoking product behind the counter that was only sold to customers who asked for it.
Synthetic substances can pose health risks, said Tate Yeatman, a sheriff's office forensic scientist. In March, the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency placed several synthetic cannabinoids and stimulants into the Controlled Substances Act.
These substances are "much more potent" than THC, the active ingredient in marijuana, Yeatman said.
"They're made illegally, so there's no quality control. There's no telling how much of these compounds are on the material that you're smoking. So that combination makes it a dangerous mix," Yeatman said.
St. Cyr said he couldn't comment on whether either Lee or Shipley knew that the products were illegal. The store's website lists hookah and glass pipes, vaporizers and gas masks among its products.
"If they weren't aware before," St. Cyr said, "they certainly are now."
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