That arrest of a worker at a southern Colorado smoke shop is the second prominent “Spice” related bust in the Colorado Springs in a week. The DEA raided a major manufacturing operation in Colorado Springs days before.
Synthetic marijuana, sold in local stores, has a warning statement printed on the packaging. Nineteen-year-old Joshua Walker smoked some anyway.
"In the moment it seemed awesome, like the cool thing to do,” he said. “But for some of us that wasn't the case."
Walker ended up in a coma.
Authorities are cracking down on sales and manufacturing of the potentially deadly synthetic cannabinoids, but shops are still selling the products labeled as incense. 11 News asked a legal expert: What about a defense of "It’s clearly labeled not for human consumption?"
“You can try that,” said attorney and former prosecutor David Webster.
Webster said the ignorance claim is a viable defense that prosecutors would have to prove false.
"Most drug crimes require a knowing component in order for a prosecution to occur," Webster said.
State law is clear: Synthetic cannabinoids like Spice are illegal in Colorado. On top of that, recent overdoses and even deaths linked to “Spice” are generating a lot of attention to the dangers of synthetic pot.
Webster thinks shop owners are playing a dangerous game if they look the other way.
"You should know what's coming into your store,” Webster said. “If you're allowing an illegal product to be sold in your store, you should be prepared for heavy duty consequences coming from legal authorities."
Experts say many manufacturers of Spice operate and ship the products from overseas, and try to skirt laws to keep in local stores.
“We don’t know what’s in there,” said Lt. Mark Comte from the Colorado Springs Police Narcotics Unit. “There is a chemical compound that makes it up. Every time we discover that chemical compound, it gets altered again. People think it’s legal but it is not.”
Lawmakers have responded by casting a wide net in legislation to include a ban on substances related to those chemicals specified within existing law.
At least three deaths in Colorado over the last year and a half are related to Spice.
Joshua Walker has since recovered from what he believes was a Spice-induced coma, and is trying to discourage anyone from using it.
“Synthetic messes with your mind and can really cause harm,” Walker said.