Gov. Rick Scott may have signed a law into effect that basically makes K2 (synthetic marijuana) illegal, but law enforcement still faces an uphill battle in keeping it off the streets.
An example of just how hard their job can be came Wednesday afternoon when Hillsborough County Sheriff deputies inspected a Northwest Tampa warehouse where large quantities of K2 were allegedly being produced, packaged and distributed to the Tampa Bay market.
"After the law was signed, we've gone into convenience stores now we're trying to focus on manufacturers," said Hillsborough County Sheirff's Office Col. Donna Lusczynski.
The warehouse was located in an office park at 6308 Benjamin Road, just north of Veterans Expressway. Officers had been receiving tips about the warehouse, which had the name Natural Herbal Solutions on front signage. Calls to the company were not returned.
While K2 was seized during Wednesday's inspection, no charges were filed against the owners. Testing must be performed to determine if the seized materials violate the new law.
"At this point there's nothing our officers can do to test it (personally)," said Lusczynski said. "We'll have to send it FDLE and if it falls within parameters we can charge."
In late March, Scott added 29 new chemical compounds to the list of illegal controlled substances, which would include K2 and other designer drugs like it. Soaking raw vegetation in various chemical cocktails makes K2.
On Wednesday, Sheriff's Deputy Larry McKinnon held up a package of K2 to show the ingredients listed on the back.
Since the new law, manufacturers have changed their chemical compounds and ingredients to stay within legal parameters, said McKinnon, a spokesman for the sheriff's office.
It's one of the several hurdles law enforcement face in prosecuting K2 manufacturers and carriers.
"So you have to keep fighting the battle," he said. "Even at best, we're limited on time to make an arrest."
Inside the Tampa warehouse were several 150-pound sacks of raw vegetation. K2 was also spread across the floor to dry. Chemical solution was also stored at the facility, according to law enforcement.
Health concerns of people working at the warehouse and surrounding offices were taken into account. Occupational Safety and Health Administration officials and the Hillsborough County Fire Department inspected the warehouse along with sheriff's deputies.
McKinnon pointed to an increase in youth using the synthetic marijuana, overdoses and robberies of convenience stores that sell K2.
"They market it to teenagers with the type of packaging that focuses on a segment of our population not ready to make that decision," McKinnon said.
If FDLE tests show the seized K2 included any illegal chemical compounds, the sheriff’s office will work with the State Attorney's Office to prosecute, Lusczynski said.