Pending spice prosecution, cloud over smoke shop owners fighting business license revocation

ST. GEORGE – Amid discussions concerning routine city business, the St. George City Council chamber took on a near courtroom-style atmosphere as legal representatives of the city and Mike’s Smoke, Cigar & Gifts argued for and against the city’s revocation of the smoke shop’s business license.

Mike’s Smoke, Cigar & Gifts, 1973 W. Sunset Blvd., was the target of two searches in January 2013 and April 2012 by the Washington County Drug Task Force concerning the alleged sale of a product chemically similar to spice. Spice itself is a synthetic, psychoactive substance designed to copy the effects of marijuana.

The City of St. George revoked the smoke shop’s business license because of these incidents and its owners are appealing.

Since spice was made illegal in Utah in February 2011, Ryan Holdaway, legal counsel for the smoke shop’s operators, said the smoke shop hasn’t sold any spice at all. Instead, it has sold products that contained chemicals legal under the law, and were not mimics, or “analogs,” of the chemicals found in controlled substances.

Paula Houston, City of St. George deputy attorney, told the city council that the operators of Mike’s Smoke’s Cigar & Gifts became the targets of drug task force raids after an undercover investigation. During the investigation, Houston said officers were able to buy the alleged spice-mimic, called “Reborn,” from the smoke shop.

The product itself was not publically displayed, but kept hidden under the counter. Buyers also had to know what they were asking for, she said.

Holdaway said the Reborn wasn’t “hidden” as police investigators claim, but rather kept in a safe because the smoke shop had been broken into before and the Reborn packets were among the first items taken because they were small and convenient.

As for the difference in chemical make-up between spice and Reborn, Holdaway said, “in the world of chemistry a single atom can make a world of difference.”

During the exchange before the city council, two specific chemicals were mentioned by name – AM-694 and XRL-11. AM-694 is listed as an analog of a controlled substance, Holdaway said, XLR-11 is not, and is allegedly thousands of times less potent.

If XLR-11, one of the chemicals found in Reborn, is not what the drug task force and prosecutors claim it to be, Holdaway said, then there is no reason the business license should be revoked as nothing illegal transpired in the first place.

Holdaway said the council could wait on its decision on the license revocation until the court case surrounding the smoke shop and its owners runs its course, thus allowing it to operate until a conviction or acquittal is made. This would allow the owners to continue with their livelihood, rather than having it denied them as the prosecution proceeds.

But Houston told the council the two chemicals are both analogs of a controlled substance, and therefore illegal.   The city doesn’t need to wait for a conviction in the courts, she said. A criminal act involving the business – the selling of an allegedly illegal substance in this case – gives the city enough reason to revoke the license.

While most of the council remained as they listened to the arguments made, Councilmember Gil Almquist asked Holdaway if the Reborn product the smoke shop sold was meant to be smoked.

Holdaway said Reborn packets were marked for use as aroma therapy and had a label on them warning the product was not meant for human consumption.

Someone going to a smoke shop is looking to smoke, Almquist said. He also said he wondered why the owners would sell the substance, supposedly knowing of the detrimental effects it could have on those who smoke it.

Holdaway said the issue of the license revocation was a matter of the law, and not a moral one. Just because people may be offended by what the smoke shop sells, its owners shouldn’t be punished with license revocation because of it.

Ultimately, the city council decided to table the issue so they could take additional time to study it.

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Email: mkessler@stgnews.com

Twitter: @MoriKessler

Copyright St. George News, SaintGeorgeUtah.com LLC, 2013, all rights reserved.

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1 Comment

  • Mr. Freedom April 24, 2013 at 7:15 am

    Just legalize marijuana Utah, quit being so stupid with a failed drug policy, no plant should be made illegal, everyone who is educated knows the reason it was made illegal in the 30’s was for racist reasons. Now its illegal because a select few are greedy. not because its dangerous

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