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3 arrested, drugs and cash seized from 2 smoke shops

Published: Wednesday, Feb. 29 2012 4:33 p.m. MST

SOUTH SALT LAKE — Three people were arrested and Spice, bath salts, marijuana and a large amount of cash were seized by police after search warrants were served on two smoke shops Wednesday.

Just before noon, Unified police and Taylorsville police served simultaneous warrants at two Smoker's Guru locations: 4523 S. Redwood Road and 1350 S. State.

Investigators ended up seizing a large amount of Spice called "Chronic," bath salts, marijuana and a total of about $35,000 in cash.

"This is a fairly large bust," said Unified police detective Levi Hughes.

Scales and other packaging material typically used for drugs was also seized. At the Salt Lake store, a loaded handgun was also recovered, elevating the seriousness of the offenses. The owner of the store and the owner's son were arrested. At the Taylorsville store, the manager, also a relative of the owner, was taken into custody.

A little more than a year ago, Utah Gov. Gary Herbert signed a bill making Spice, also known as synthetic marijuana, illegal in Utah as well as bath salts such as Ivory Wave, used illegally as a kind of synthetic methamphetamine.

Law enforcement went to a lot of effort to inform local smoke shops that the selling of Spice and bath salts was now illegal, said Taylorsville Police Sgt. Tracy Wyant.

But Hughes said some of those businesses "are not willing to obey the law." They're knowingly breaking the law and willing to risk being caught — potentially spending several years in prison — in order to make an additional 400 percent to 600 percent profit that comes from selling the illegal substances.

"They continue to do it to compete with the other smokes out there," he said.

But when people are using a store to sell illegal drugs, Hughes said they're considered drug dealers, no matter how many other products being sold in the store are legal.

Also seized Wednesday were several ordinary cylinder-shaped cans that appeared to contain WD-40, Pringles and soda. But each one had a false screw-on top or bottom and  drugs were hidden inside, he said.

Drug agents Wednesday seized a couple of items that raised concern because they were designed to make drugs look more appealing. In one case, they seized medical marijuana issued in California that looked like regular cereal. Another item agents had not seen before were bath salts shaped as pills.

Wyant said his department will seek to have the business license of the smoke shop in Taylorsville revoked.

As for the other smoke shop businesses in Utah that were still selling Spice and bath salts, Hughes said their time will come.

"If you don't stop, we'll see you soon," he said.

The supplier of the Spice to the stores was unknown Wednesday. In November, the Utah Attorney General's Office and Las Vegas metropolitan police worked together to shut down a major Spice and bath salts manufacturing and distribution operation. A large drug-making lab was found inside a Las Vegas warehouse, where Spice and bath salts worth an estimated $20 million to $30 million on the street could have been produced.       

E-mail: preavy@desnews.com

Twitter: DNewsCrimeTeam

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