Special agent issues blunt warning to two Taft smoke shops
Two businesses in Taft are going to face federal prosecution for dealing in so-called "spice" and "bath salts."
A senior agent with the federal Drug Enforcement Agency didn't mince words when he discussed the problems the two drugs are causing Wednesday.
Carl Beckett is the senior special agent for the Bakersfield office of the DEA and said the two smoke shops have been targeted,
"We are going to come visit them soon," Beckett said.
He didn't care who knows.
"It's too late. The investigation is over.We've bought from them," Beckett said at the Taft Chamber of Commerce's Sit n' Sip.
Taft Police have been working with the DEA, both Beckett and Taft Chief of Police Ed Whiting said, but police have been hampered by changes in the chemical make-up of the intoxicants.
Whiting said the makers of spice and bath salts frequently change the formula slightly so it is not covered under state law.
Federal statutes contains wording to cover all the derivatives, Whiting said.
Local police have come close to raiding local smoke shops, but had to call off the operations when the substances obtained through undercover purchases had formulas that were changed so they were not covered under state law, Whiting said.
Beckett, who has worked at a variety of DEA posts both in the United States and in South America, said he's surprised the community isn't more upset about the sales and use of bath salts, especially by children.
"I'm baffled by that," he said. "This is not marijuana. It gives you LSD-methamphetamine-cocaine highs."
The intoxicants have been linked to several crimes in the Taft area recently, including a man arrested for reckless shooting in Taft Heights who was hallucinating to the point that he thought the Kern County Sheriff's deputy that arrested him was God, according to investigative reports.
In 2011, Taft Police arrested an armed man they said was "acting bizarrely and chasing shadows" and seized numerous guns and thousands of rounds of ammunition. That suspect was believed to have been using bath salts.
Beckett said spice and bath salts are sold to everyone, even to children.
Surveillance at the smoke shops showed that, he said.
"There's oilworkers people in suits and a line of kids going in and out," he said.
Spice and bath salts are specifically targeted to children, the chief said, carrying such names as "Scooby Snacks."
The inability of state law to keep up with the changes in the chemical formulas used in the manufacture of the intoxicants can work in law enforcements favor.
Federal prosecution can have much more severe consequences than California law, which sometimes contradicts federal statutes, especially for marijuana.
"You will not see what is happening with AB109 with us. We are not a revolving door, Beckett said bluntly. Beckett said people will lose a lot.
"When I come to your business I am taking everything, including the business you own," he said. "We freeze every bank account you own, whether it was ill-gotten or not." The asset seizures can even affect the property owners who rent to stores dealing the substances.