ABC Board moves to put "spice" on ice

State agents seized an estimated $3.9 million worth of synthetic marijuana from stores throughout Alabama after the governor ordered it removed from shelves as a public health hazard.

"It was everywhere," Capt. Hal Taylor of the Alabama Alcoholic Beverage Control Board said Monday.

Gov. Robert Bentley signed an executive order Friday banning the sale of synthetic marijuana, a chemically treated herbal product that mimics the effects of marijuana. It has been sold legally under brand names like "Spice" and "K2," but Bentley said it is a dangerous drug blamed for overdoses and suicides.

After Bentley signed the order, agents of the Alabama Alcoholic Beverage Control Board spent the weekend seeing if stores were abiding by the governor's order.

Taylor said they seized 39,572 packages. Those packages, plus 294,835 grams or 650 pounds found unpackaged in bags at the Common Sents store near Florence, had a total weight of 387,016 grams, or 853 pounds. The product retails for about $10 a gram, which makes the total value about $3.9 million, he said.

Phone calls to Common Sents seeking comment Monday went unanswered.

Taylor said the seizures of ready-to-sell packages were mostly from convenience stores. No figures were immediately available about what percentage of the stores checked by ABC agents still had synthetic marijuana on the shelves.

But in Mobile County, local authorities checked 10 stores Saturday and found five were still selling it. A total of 150 packages were taken, said Chad Tucker, spokesman for the district attorney's office.

When the governor signed his executive order, the state health officer, Dr. Don Williamson, also moved to make the products illegal by classifying the chemical compounds as controlled substances, which means selling them at retail and possessing them is illegal. He said the classification will take effect Oct. 24, allowing time to get the word out before anyone is charged with possession or distribution.

Taylor said some convenience store operators had been under the impression that they could keep selling until the criminal penalties kick in, but that is incorrect. He said officials allowed a 10-day window between announcing the ban and filing any charges as a courtesy to merchants.

"They didn't want to ambush anyone," he said.

Packages of synthetic marijuana are sold as herbal incense or potpourri, and the packages usually say the ingredients are not for human consumption. But the packages also describe the ingredients as "mood enhancing" and "long lasting."

"These substances have been wrongly presented as a safe and legal alternative to marijuana," Williamson said.

A check of corporate records at the Alabama secretary of state's office found one Alabama-based corporation, MJH Wholesale of Decatur, registered to manufacture and distribute "aromatic incense." The company was identified by an ABC agent Mike Reese recently when Williamson was gathering public input as his first step toward criminalizing synthetic marijuana.

Phone messages left Monday on a recording machine at the office MJH Wholesale were not returned.

(Copyright 2011 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)