SALT LAKE CITY (ABC 4 News) – For seven months, ABC 4 Reporter Brian Carlson has been tracking drug dealers caught selling “spice.” They’re now looking at stiff penalties for their crime. And lawmakers are making new moves to stop dealers from selling it.
Kids smoke it, dealers sell it, and cops can't crack down on it quick enough.
"We want to get it off the street," said Lt. Justin Hoyal, Unified Police Dept.
We're talking about “spice,” the chemical cousin of marijuana. It's running rampant in Utah. ABC 4 showed you how police busted a gas station near Cottonwood High School for selling spice under the counter to students and addicts alike.
"Once I knew they had it, I guess the race was on, I'd buy all the time," a spice addict told ABC 4.
In February Brian Carlson showed you how he went undercover to catch spice dealers in the act.
"Do you guys have any potpourri? You do? Uh, which kind do you have?” Carlson asked a store clerk during an undercover drug buy.
“Dank. It's strong," said Julie Nguyen, the store clerk.
Because of ABC 4’s story Julie and Michelle Nguyen from Michelle’s corner located at 300 W. and 400 S. in Salt Lake were both booked into jail. They face five years to life in prison for selling spice in a drug free zone.
Thursday ABC 4’s cameras were rolling as they made their first appearance in court.
"Was it worth it?" Carlson asked Julie and Michelle.
But they wouldn't answer. And when they got out of the courtroom, for some odd reason Michelle began acting very strange, she started wailing her arms in the air – who knows why? But still no answers.
State law makers tell ABC 4 they'd love to see more spice dealers pay the price.
"We're going to treat them like what they are," said Rep. Paul Ray, (R) Clinton.
Representative Ray said smoke shops are keeping the drug alive in Utah.
"We've seen a huge influx in smoke shops in a state that has one of the lowest smoking rates in the nation, to see all the smoke shops around tells you there's more than tobacco sales going on," said Ray.
So to curb shops from selling spice to kids, a new law now prevents smoke shops from opening up within 1,000 feet from any place kids go like schools, churches or parks. If a store gets caught peddling illegal drugs and loses its license for 60 days, it may be forced to move altogether.
Police said the law will help them fight back against spice.
"We're going to come after them and continue to investigate these places so that we can get it to stop," said Hoyal.
It's simply another weapon against dealers to curb the spice surge.
ABC 4 is told next year even more weapons on the way. Ray said he's already working on another new law that gives greater power to local police to put an even tighter squeeze on smoke shops, and the law would also make it illegal for anyone under 19 years old to even go inside.