Last month's Spice bust in Loveland, in which a business owner and two employees were arrested for peddling a substance colloquially known as synthetic marijuana (even though it has little in common with cannabis), got plenty of attention. But the operation pales in comparison to a nationwide series of raids and arrests conducted by assorted federal, state and local agencies as coordinated by the U.S. Attorney's Office in Colorado.
Continue for details, including documents from the feds and the Colorado Attorney General, photos from the DEA and comments from a U.S. Attorney's Office spokesman who makes frequent mention of the "health crisis" created by the use of products prominently stamped with the phrase "Not for human consumption."
The federal indictment focuses in part on Daniel Bernier, whose business was alternately known as The Really Cool Stuff Company and Heart of Asia. He's said to have overseen the importation of Spice to Florida, where it was sprayed with a green vegetable substance, presumably intended to make the assorted chemicals look more like cannabis. In addition, wholesaler Donald Creager III allegedly oversaw shipment of the products to assorted retail outlets in Colorado.
Not that Florida and Colorado were the only two states targeted. The eight-month investigation also reached into Georgia, Alaska, Illinois, Texas, Wisconsin, Nebraska and Nevada, and there were plenty of raids and busts to go around.
Jeff Dorschner, spokesman for the U.S. Attorney's Office in Colorado, provides some background.
"The U.S. Attorney's Office has been focused on Spice for some time," he says. "We had a prosecution of a distributor of spice a little over a year ago, and as that prosecution was concluding, the public health crisis over Spice began -- and as the U.S. Attorney saw the severity of the crisis, he assigned one of his prosecutors to assemble a team to address it."
The prosecutor found "that there were many different agencies already engaged in a variety of different actions," Dorschner continues. "It just wasn't coordinated. So we brought everybody to the table to find out the best way to respond."
Continue for more about the nationwide Spice raids, including additional photos and documents. In the end, the issue was attacked from a civil angle by entities as disparate as the Food and Drug Administration and the Colorado Attorney General's Office, with the latter filing a lawsuit under the Colorado Consumer Protection Act against Orlando Martinez, owner of O's Pipe and Tobacco. That document is also on view below.
Additionally, Dorschner highlights criminal investigations involving his office and the 18th Judicial District DA's office, as well as what he describes as "administrative remedies trying to stop some of the shipments coming into the U.S. from overseas.
"We knew there were similar problems with Spice in other parts of the country," Dorschner confirms. "But I don't think we knew the magnitude of the problems. There were arrests and search warrants executed across the country in an attempt to dismantle the distribution organization and seize the product."
At a press conference earlier this week, officials emphasized three key points, Dorschner notes: "First, if you're consuming something that says 'Not for human consumption,' you should know it's dangerous. Second, if you're a business, take this off your shelves, because you can get in trouble and people can get hurt. And third, if you know people who use this stuff, don't let them."
Dorschner points to a statement made at the press conference by U.S. Attorney JohnWalsh: "Spice is a form of foreign-laboratory-produced poison, and has sent many users to the hospital, or even to the morgue." Continue for more about the nationwide Spice raids, including additional photos and documents. Statistics show that 75 percent of Spice users on average are males, with most of them falling between the ages of twelve and 29.
"When you look at the packaging, it's clearly designed to be colorful and attract the attention of minors, essentially," Dorschner says. "But just because it's on sale at a gas station or a convenience store doesn't mean it's safe."
Here's the federal Spice indictment, followed by the lawsuit filed by the Colorado Attorney General's Office.
Send your story tips to the author, Michael Roberts.
More from our Marijuana archive: "Spice bust in Loveland puts focus on dangers of 'synthetic marijuana.'"
Keep Westword Free... Since we started Westword, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Denver, and we would like to keep it that way. Offering our readers free access to incisive coverage of local news, food and culture. Producing stories on everything from political scandals to the hottest new bands, with gutsy reporting, stylish writing, and staffers who've won everything from the Society of Professional Journalists' Sigma Delta Chi feature-writing award to the Casey Medal for Meritorious Journalism. But with local journalism's existence under siege and advertising revenue setbacks having a larger impact, it is important now more than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" membership program, allowing us to keep covering Denver with no paywalls.