Federal agents said a tip helped them make a huge drug bust in Colorado Springs this week, and they need more such tips to stop the trade of a dangerous product known as Spice.
The Drug Enforcement Administration seized 156 pounds of Spice Tuesday at the Spice of Life tobacco shop on South Academy Boulevard. The shop's owner and three employees were arrested on suspicion of selling the product.
"We only knew about it because someone tipped us off that it was happening," said Matt Barden, the DEA's resident agent in charge. "And it took us six months to get to a point where we could make arrests. We can't inspect every store. We need people to report to authorities immediately if they suspect a store is selling Spice."
Spice is sold under names such as Colorado Classic and Mr. Nice Guy. Barden said the leaves in the product are catnip and tea leaves from other countries and are relatively harmless. However, he said, unspecified chemicals sprayed on the leaves -- which are smoked by users -- are what make Spice dangerous.
Barden said Colorado has become a popular location for the Spice trade. He said hundreds of people have become sick after smoking it, and three have died -- including one in Colorado Springs.
"A lot of people think it's legal, but it's not," he said. "You'll be charged with a felony if you're caught with it."
Spice is sold as incense, with a warning on the label that it's unfit for human consumption. However, Barden said many people actually smoke the product seeking to get high.
Barden says he believes legalization of marijuana in Colorado has opened the door for illegal products like Spice.
"People ask me why are we using resources on Spice instead of on real marijuana," he said. "It's because Spice is cheaper and more people have access to it."
Several tobacco shops have pulled Spice and related products off their shelves.
The four men arrested are Joseph Hershberger, 36; Allan Johnson. 32; Donald Cordova, 30 and Ryan Oligney, 28. All but Cordova were free on bond as of Thursday night.