SEBRING - Although Florida banned the sale of synthetic marijuana two years ago, that doesn't mean its disappeared from the streets.
This past week, investigators from the state's Division of Alcoholic Beverages and Tobacco arrested an employee at Blue Streaks, a convenience store located across the street from Sebring High School, and charged him with two counts of sale of synthetic marijuana and two counts of possession of controlled substance with intent to sell or deliver.
Scott Edward DaSilva, 44, 908 Granby Ave., Sebring, was arrested after he was accused of selling synthetic marijuana to an agent of the state division on two occasions, Oct. 22, 2013, and Feb. 10, 2014.
An arrest affidavit accused DaSilva of illegally having 26 packages of synthetic marijuana in his business.
Capt. Randy LaBelle of the Highlands County Sheriff's Office said he believes Blue Streak is not the only convenience store that sells or has sold synthetic marijuana, even though the product is illegal.
While before it was made illegal in 2012 the synthetic marijuana was displayed openly, he said.
Now, sales are done under the table, which makes it harder for law enforcement to be able to make arrests, he said.
"They don't have it openly on their shelves," he said.
The same is true in other parts of Florida. Huffpost Miami reported last year that while most open sales of synthetic drugs had ended, the drug problem hadn't been completely eliminated. The Fort Myers News-Press reported last month that several people, including a Fort Myers man who won the opportunity to meet stars of "Breaking Bad," were arrested and accused of being part of a national synthetic marijuana distribution operation.
Another substance called bath salts that was also sold legally and then made illegal isn't as much a problem, LaBelle said. That's because people are more apt to buy synthetic marijuana and see it as similar to real marijuana, he said.
But while some of the effects may be similar, the similarities end there, he said.
LaBelle said that with manufacturers constantly changing the chemicals with the aim that the substance is no longer covered by a law, no one can predict the effects, he said.
Although there's been no reports of deaths in Highlands County from use of synthetic marijuana, LaBelle said he's seen numerous cases where users had such toxic effects from the drugs that they had to go to a hospital emergency room.
LaBelle said that if someone dies from synthetic marijuana in Highlands County, the sheriff's office will aggressively attempt to find the seller and work to make sure the person feels the full effects of the law, making the case a top priority.
Convenience store owners and employees have been told about the harmful effects of the drug, but some care more about profits than about whether a young person will die or have major problems using it, he said.
When caught, he said, "The money they're making won't outweigh the consequences they face."