Despite Federal Efforts, It Remains Difficult to Stop the Sale of Spice

Although reports from states suggest that at least 1,000 Americans died from smoking a form of synthetic marijuana known as “spice” between 2009 and 2014, the CDC does not track national data for spice and other synthetic drugs such as bath salts.

A major reason for this is that these designer drugs are made from a multitude of different chemicals, and toxicology tests can’t keep up, according to Ron Flegel, a forensic toxicologist quoted in the New York Times. As federal regulators declare one type of chemical constituent illegal, manufacturers just switch to a different type of chemical, making the entire product technically legal.

Although some surveys suggest that the use of spice has declined in recent years, the drug continues to be sold openly on the Internet, in smoke shops, and by street dealers. Dealers often sell spice as potpourri or incense, sometimes labeled as “not for human consumption.”

The DEA was successful in intercepting three Tampa residents who imported one type of illegal spice from China. The individuals had imported at least seven parcels of the drug XLR-11 with a street value of more than $5.4 million.

Ahmed Yehia Khalifa and Ahmed Maher Elhewl pled guilty to charges of conspiring to import a Schedule 1 controlled substance on August 11, 2015. They also pled guilty to possession to manufacture and distribute the drug. Each offense carries a maximum of 20 years in prison. On August 12, 2015, Tamjina Islam Piya pled guilty to conspiracy to import drug paraphernalia. He faces a maximum sentence of three years in prison.

One major success in the war against the distribution of spice in the US was the arrest of the Chinese businessman Jaijun Tian at the Los Angeles International Airport in 2014. Tian was a leading manufacturer and exporter of the many chemicals used to create spice.

Major players from China rarely come to the US, but Tian was lured here as part of a sting operation using a high-level informant who had done large-scale business with him. His arrest underscores the rising concerns that China could be to spice what Columbia is to cocaine.