COLUMBIA, SC (WIS) - A WIS undercover investigation found several stores in the Midlands where the illegal drug synthetic marijuana apparently was available.
It was after WIS received tips from concerned viewers who said their children were using and buying a drug locally, known as K-2 or Spice. The basis for synthetic marijuana was originally discovered by researchers at Clemson University. Almost 20 years ago, they stumbled across a chemical that could mimic the effects of marijuana on the brain. Years later, according to the Drug Enforcement Administration, that formula was stolen from a scientific journal and used to manufacture the designer drug overseas.
The drug is illegal in South Carolina, as well as 40 other states.
"We have these people living in our community, pretending to be good citizens opening up store fronts, all the while selling poison to our children," said Robert Murphy, a DEA assistant special agent-in-charge. "There are about 15 stores we have identified that are actively selling this."
The latest statistics from the DEA show roughly one in 10 high school students has tried synthetic marijuana, with teenage males being more likely to use it.
WIS did not complete any sales during its investigation and only asked for brand names that law enforcement said are synthetic marijuana.
Clerks at three out of eight stores WIS visited apparently were willing to sell the undercover team synthetic marijuana. One location, Time Warp, made no attempt to hide its spice products, even showcasing prices and brands on a poster.
"Look at the names. Black Diamond, Mad Hatter, Triple X, The Joker. It's poison and it's marketed for our children," said Murphy, who pointed out the names on the sign after seeing video footage from inside in Time Warp. "They are calling them Scooby Snax, and they are selling it as potpourri."
When WIS' undercover team visited a Time Warp location, here's what happened:
WIS: "Do y'all have any Get Real or Black Diamond?"
WIS: "Cool. Can I get a pack of Get Real?"
Clerk: "We don't have Get Real in 3 grams. We have 5s, 1s, 2s, and 10 grams."
WIS: "OK. How much are those?"
Clerk: "The .5 is $5, 1 is $10, 2 is $20, and 10 is $65."
WIS: "Yeah, I will get the 10."
WIS: "Have you tried any of the other ones besides Get Real?"
Clerk: "I don't do it personally."
The clerk then passed a package of Get Real to the WIS undercover team.
WIS then went to the C-Mart gas station in Lexington.
Clerk: "Can we help you?"
WIS: "We're actually looking for some Spice. Do you have any Black Diamond or Get Real?"
WIS: "OK. Thanks anyway."
WIS' undercover team was about to leave when one of the clerks has a sudden change of mind.
Perry, a clerk: "How many bags are you guys trying to buy?"
WIS: "10 grams."
Perry: "Call me after 3. I have about 40 packs."
WIS staff called Perry as he asked.
Perry: I got about 15 packs. OK
WIS: OK. What kind is it?
Perry: Man. You know the Triple X?
Perry: Yeah. This is my own brand. I did that K-2 Triple X a long time ago with somebody.
Perry: That's the original K-2 Triple X. Do you know what I'm talking about?
WIS: I actually don't. Can you tell me about it a little bit?
Perry: You know that K-2 came out and it was just K-2. Then they added more designers. One called Triple X, but it's all the same thing. I mean basically this is all synthetic.
WIS: OK. OK. So it's not the same stuff that it used to be? It's the newer version of it? It's got more synthetic?
Perry: Yeah. It didn't come out today. It came out when it was legal. You know?
WIS: OK. I got ya. So what happened? I thought you had 40 bags.
Perry: Listen I got a business client calling me. So basically I can do $10 a pack. How much do you want?
WIS: All right. I'll call you back in a little bit and let you know.
Perry: OK. That's fine.
Later, WIS let the DEA listen to the call recorded with Perry.
"That's a drug deal," Murphy said.
Another Time Warp location WIS investigated had a more intricate defense system.
Clerk: "When you sign this, it lets you know we're not responsible for you, and we showed you the right way to use it. If you make this purchase and use it in any illegal way, we're not responsible."
Murphy said that waiver isn't enough.
"That might shield their conscience a little, but it has no impact on our efforts or the law," Murphy said.
DEA agents said selling synthetic marijuana is a profitable business and almost no one is turned away.
"They're putting it in cups, so if someone wants something less than what is in the package, they don't want to turn away a customer," Murphy said.
So WIS confronted the people who offered to sell when our undercover team asked for this illegal drug.
WIS reporter PJ Randhawa: "Hi, I'm PJ. I'm with WIS News. There are two young men in here, and they said they were almost able to buy some synthetic marijuana. You guys sell that stuff here?"
PJ: "Black Diamond. They said you asked them to sign some type of waiver or form here and then you showed them how to use it."
Clerk: "Showed them how to use what?"
PJ: "So you don't sell it here? Because you know it's illegal."
Clerk: "Yeah, I know."
PJ: "Well you know this looks bad. For what reason would you make them sign a form?"
Clerk: "Because if they were trying to purchase anything that was that we sell here, it's not illegal. We don't sell anything illegal. You see the sign right here? Nothing that we sell is illegal."
Jerry Baker, who owns Time Warp, told WIS in a phone call that his stores sell potpourri, and they're not responsible for what people use it for.
WIS also confronted Perry from C-Mart. When WIS went back to the C-Mart gas station, Perry was not in the store, but another clerk was able to get him on the phone.
Perry told WIS that he was trying to sell a truck to the undercover team and denied trying to sell synthetic marijuana. He then hung up on WIS.
The C-Mart store manager told WIS that Perry no longer works at the store.
The DEA is currently reviewing the individuals and businesses featured in WIS' investigation.
"We are going to come with all the resources that the DEA has," Murphy said. "And we will ensure the people who are in charge of putting this poison on our streets, impacting our children, and we will seek justice."