Undercover operation busts smoke shop for selling 'spice'

Like any mother, Pat worried about her son Chris, but this situation was different than most – Chris had experienced a psychotic break after smoking spice – synthetic marijuana – and had to be hospitalized for 17 days.

(Pat and her son requested to be identified only by their first names.)

Spice, also known as “Rain,” is a dangerous hallucinogen that was outlawed in the state in October 2011. The drug is synthetic marijuana that has been coated with a psychoactive chemical and can create dangerous hallucinations. It smells like oregano, a Pierce County undercover deputy known as “Turbo” said.

Now, the store that sold the 20-year-old the drug was part of a two-month undercover investigation, resulting in the arrest of the store’s owner on Thursday.

Yu Sung Cheon, who owns the Smoke and More 808 72nd Ave. E. in Tacoma, has been charged with unlawful delivery of a controlled substance. A clerk that worked at the store is also under arrest. His bail was set at $35,000 Thursday. He could face up to 10 years in prison if found guilty.

The undercover sting confiscated 900 packets of the drug – the store’s clerks had been selling it from behind the counter for $30-$40 for 3-4 grams of the drug. Turbo said that Cheon stocked up on the drug before it became illegal so that he could continue to sell it. They found the packets after searching the store and Cheon’s home.

“Shop owners who think they can make a few bucks by selling it on the side need to rethink that because we are not going to look the other way. We are going to vigorously prosecute these cases,” said Pierce County Prosecutor Mark Lindquist.

The two-month undercover investigation by Turbo, was kick started by Pat, who contacted deputies when she became concerned about her son.

“Through this investigation, I learned how dangerous this drug can be and I think literally that we are now just scratching the tip of the surface with this case,” Turbo said.

And Chris said it was easy to obtain the drug – "I just said, can I get a package of Rain?”

But once he smoked it, it landed him in the hospital.

"I punched holes in the wall, pushed my mom around," Chris said.

"His need for this was so great, he was becoming more and more violent," his mother said.

Chris, who was released from treatment last week, suffers from memory loss.

"I think it has devastated our family and I think it's devastating to this community," Pat said.

“We need people to know that they should not mess with this stuff, we intend to keep coming after it just like we did today,” said Pierce County Sheriff Paul Pastor.

Keeping banned synthetic drugs off the shelves has become a problem as a growing number of these products have made their way into the marketplace. Products labeled as “herbal incense” have become popular, especially among teens and young adults, the DEA said.

What makes these products “drugs” is that they consist of plant material laced with synthetic cannabinoids which, when smoked, mimic the effects of THC, the psychoactive ingredient of marijuana. According to the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, more than 100 substances have been synthesized and identified to date.

The DEA also said that newly developed drugs, particularly from the “2C family” – dimethoxyphenethylamines — are generally referred to as synthetic, psychedelic hallucinogens. 2C-E was recently cites as the cause of death of a 19-year-old in Minnesota.

The American Association of Poison Control Centers reported that they received 6,959 calls related to synthetic marijuana in 2011 — up from 2,906 in 2010.

The Controlled Substances Act, which seeks to control 26 synthetic drugs, passed the House Wednesday and the bill will go to the Senate; it is expected to pass and the president will review the bill as early as next week. The bill also creates a new definition for “cannabamimetic agents” and creates criteria by which similar chemical compounds are controlled. Some of those products are known as spice, rain and “K2.”