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Synthetic drug seized in raids

Spice seized at Big Smoke stores in North Idaho

The trade in synthetic drugs, a growing problem for law enforcement nationwide, appeared to have arrived in Kootenai County on Tuesday as authorities seized more than 2,400 grams of a substance called Spice, which can mimic the effects of marijuana.

Members of the North Idaho Violent Crimes Task Force served search warrants at two locations of Big Smoke, at 281 W. Hayden Ave. in Hayden and at 213 W. Appleway Ave. in Coeur d’Alene, a Kootenai County Sheriff’s Department news release said.

The drugs have a retail value of more than $25,000, the release said. Investigators also seized about $5,000 in cash.

U.S. law enforcement agencies are playing catch-up with new types of synthetics that mimic not only marijuana but also harder substances such as methamphetamine, cocaine and Ecstasy, Bloomberg Businessweek reported this week.

Locally, four Shadle Park High School students were hospitalized in November after smoking Spice. On the same day, the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency announced an emergency ban on the five chemicals used to make it, news reports said.

Some states have no penalties for the drugs, although a law passed by the Idaho Legislature banning Spice and a drug known as “bath salts” took effect in March. Bath salts is described by Washington’s Board of Pharmacy as a dangerous drug that can cause hallucinations and paranoia. News stories report links between the drug and cases of self-mutilation, suicide and homicide.

Earlier this year, Washington’s Board of Pharmacy adopted emergency rules to ban synthetic cannabinoids, such as Spice or K2, and to ban the chemicals used in bath salts, products more commonly known by names like Ivory, Purple Wave, Red Dove, Blue Silk and Zoom.

Though the market for the synthetics was not tracked in this country until a few years ago, sales now generate close to $5 billion, Bloomberg Businessweek reported.

Maj. Ben Wolfinger of the Kootenai County Sheriff’s Department said this was the first search warrant served in Kootenai County in which significant amounts of Spice were recovered.

An employee at the Coeur d’Alene Big Smoke said the businesses are part of a chain headquartered in Boise and referred questions to that office. The company owner in Boise could not immediately be reached for comment.

The businesses, which sell tobacco products and beer, remain open while the investigation continues, Wolfinger said. The business owners have been cooperating with investigators, he said.

The search warrants were served after undercover officers bought Spice at both businesses in recent weeks, the release said. Investigators are working to determine the distribution source. Charging decisions are pending.