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Sheriff’s fight against synthetic pot pays off

NEW PORT RICHEY — Law enforcement’s fight against the sale of synthetic drugs in Pasco County has made it harder for young people to obtain them, according to Chrissie Parris, coalition coordinator for the Alliance for Substance Abuse Prevention of Pasco County.

Parris is convinced that commitment to fight synthetic drugs has forced those who sell it to alter their methods.

“(Synthetic marijuana use) is still an issue, but it’s not quite as easily accessible,” Parris said. “We’re seeing less of our youth who just want to experiment doing it. Not saying it doesn’t happen still, but since it’s not on the shelves and readily available, it seems to be not the first thing they turn to.”

She said it now takes some effort for those seeking to buy synthetic marijuana. Buyers have to turn to the street or find a select few store owners or managers willing to hide the drug in their store and sell it.

Pasco County commissioners passed an ordinance in November 2012 making the sale, possession, distribution or providing of synthetic drugs illegal in the county. A fine of up to $500 per packet of synthetic drugs found can be levied against a person or store owner in possession of the substance.

Additionally, drug paraphernalia, such as pipes, are illegal to sell or display to those under 18 without a guardian present.

Packaging is targeted, allowing law enforcement members to determine if the item is intended to be used as a synthetic drug. The substance is then sent to a lab to be tested for any of the chemicals on a list banned by the state.

The names vary, but usually are catchy — K2, Spice, Dead Man Walking, Scooby Snax — and have cartoon-like graphics.

Those herbs, marketed as incense, are sprayed with chemical compounds. Consumers smoke it and receive a drug-like high.

The chemical compounds in synthetic marijuana have been known to produce hallucinations, paranoia, panic attacks, increased heart rate and other conditions.

“We’re gonna come after you,” Sgt. Bill Davis of the Pasco sheriff’s vice and narcotics unit recently announced to those selling synthetic marijuana. “You never know when we’re going to come knock on your door.”

The sheriff’s office recently arrested a store manager in Zephyrhills and charged her with possession and selling of synthetic marijuana.

Tammy Embrey, 46, was arrested at Mobil Food Mart, 36952 State Road 54. More than 200 spice packets were found, in addition to drug paraphernalia, deputies say. Some of the packets were found in the freezer.

Tips from the public led to the arrest.

FoodLand Mini-mart in Holiday was closed in September after arrests and fines earlier this year. An agreement signed by the business’ owners, Yasser Ahmed Hussin Elkalazani and Maha Hanna, forfeited the store’s legal inventory to Metropolitan Ministries. The pair must pay the county $14,000 and they agreed to never operate or work for another store in the county. The original ordinance fine was $70,000.

They still face court dates on the felony charges.

“I’m very happy with the way it turned out,” Davis said. “These defendants still have felony, criminal charges pending, so they’re not out of the woods just yet.”

Another store owner was convicted May 30 by County Judge Paul Firmani. Fouad Abuasfour of Tarpon Springs was fined $500 for each of the 47 packets of synthetic marijuana found in his 1358 Alternate U.S. 19 store in Holiday.

He was ordered to pay a fine of $23,500 and $58 in court costs.

His store also has been shuttered.

In July, Abdelhalim Shaout, owner of a BP station at the corner of Ridge and Little roads was arrested and charged with sale and possession of controlled substance. His county ordinance fine was $9,000.

Many of those arrested still face court dates.

“We’ve seen the impact,” Parris said. “We feel like the court system has held up the local ordinance, making a big difference in the way that it’s obtained.

“I think every angle we can attack the issue will make our case stronger in keeping synthetics out of youths’ hands.”

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