WRAL Investigates

WRAL's hidden cameras catch local shops selling pot alternatives

Posted November 14, 2011

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— Legal marijuana is back in North Carolina. Just months after the state banned the sale of synthetic marijuana, manufacturers tweaked the ingredients, claiming the products are legal. As the WRAL Investigates team found, that might not be the case.

Marijuana alternatives – sometimes known as K2, Spice or herb – can be tough for law enforcement to track. They are often labeled as herbal incense or potpourri, which is not supposed to be smoked.

Using hidden cameras, WRAL News employees recently found two Chapel Hill stores selling the alternatives as a legal form of pot. One store presented the product in an unmarked plastic baggie.

At Hazmat, on Franklin Street, an undercover WRAL News employee asked the owner what one of the products was like.

“Just like marijuana,” the man said, adding that the high is usually good “for about an hour and a half.”

At Expressions, also on Franklin Street, an undercover WRAL News employee asked if one of the store’s products was comparable to marijuana.

“Well, if you were going to smoke it, it would be comparable to marijuana, but this is potpourri,” the man said, smiling.

Scenes like this are playing out at stores near college campuses across the state. The practice is perfectly legal, some shop owners say, because their products don't contain the chemicals that were banned as of June 1.

WRAL Investigates showed its undercover video to North Carolina Attorney General Roy Cooper, who says he isn’t convinced that all of the products being sold are natural.

K2 sold at local shops Hidden cameras catch local shops selling pot alternatives

“Many, if not most, of these items in shops that are called ‘herb’ or ‘Spice’ are illegal under North Carolina law,” he said. “It’s very upsetting that these legal establishments would do that.”

Cooper says most of the new products that were tested at the State Crime Lab still contain banned chemicals and that some of the products are coming from Florida and China. WRAL News traced one brand to a company in Minnesota.

The Attorney General's Office says it's up to individual police and sheriff's departments to enforce the new law. No statewide effort is in place to crack down on them.

The owners of Hazmat and Expressions said they rely on the people they buy from to be honest about the ingredients. The mysterious ingredients and how they affect people are the reasons behind the ban and the concern.

Will, a biomedical engineering major who asked WRAL News not to use his last name, said he started using alternative marijuana this past summer after breaking up with his girlfriend. He bought the product in a small, unmarked baggie from a store in Chapel Hill.

“I was thinking to myself, ‘This is legal. It doesn’t really seem to be harmful,’” he recalled.

Will quickly discovered some frightening side-effects.

“It was scary – very, very scary. I thought I was going to die,” he said. “I found myself in a state of paralysis. I couldn’t move.”

Will says he ended up with a $200-a-week addiction, a stint in rehab and a year off school.

“It changed my personality. It caused me to do things I would never do in a sober state,” he said. “It turned me into a compulsive spender.”

Will says he is trying to get his life together and that he won’t be able to graduate with his friends.

123 Comments

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  • teklc Nov 22, 2011

    How in the world did someone get a $200.00 a week habit on fake weed ? Real weed doesn't do this !!! Unless he moved on to stronger drugs this just doesn't seem right to me.

  • brentf777 Nov 16, 2011

    It's not the place of the government to regulate what any citizen eats, drinks, or smokes. The Founders of this nation believed we had these things called "Natural Rights." It is no concern of the government what we do as long as property rights are not infringed upon and no non-consenting individuals are directly harmed. No victim, no crime. If people are harmed they should be held accountable for their actions under law with no regard for any substances consumed that contributed to the crime. A lot of this comes down to self control as well. Our country had virtually no drug laws until the 20th century. Even in the early years of the 20th century, a 10 year old could go to the local mom-and-pop pharmacy and purchase heroin. We never had any wide problems with drugs because we were a Christian nation whose citizens controlled their own impulses and didn't look for government to do it for them. It has been said you can live by God's 10 commandments or man's 10,000. How true.

  • warbirdlover Nov 16, 2011

    I'm not saying that if you want to smoke a Doobie, go right ahead. I'm not here to judge anyone. I know there are many medicinal uses of weed. I also know that if the government would legalise it, and sell it in the ABC stores it would generate BILLIONS of tax revenues and slash crime rates and clear out the prisons for real criminals. I also think that is should carry the same penalties as Booze, if your caught doing it at work or driving. I would rather have you do something that is natural, than something brewed up in some Shanghi Back Ally Lab. I tried weed once and all it did was make me hungry and want to get Jiggy with a member of the opposite gender. I got drunk once also and had a hangover that would wake the dead. I can't see spending good money to be miserable. But let's face it folks, a lot of people have no comprehension of moderation. I also think that this Alternative is bad news for our young people. I was just wondering about the alure of getting high.

  • storchheim Nov 15, 2011

    Have you anti-pot people ever heard of moderation? Not everyone who enjoys a glass of wine or a warm shot of whiskey is an alcoholic or "NEEDS TO ESCAPE REALITY". Not everyone who has 2 or 3 well-deserved hits on a Saturday night is a drug fiend.

    Calm down, will you? You'll die young acting like that.

    There's a difference between abusing any substance and enjoying it. Alcohol is more immediately destructive to someone who abuses it; pot will take longer. Alcohol is more likely to lead to violent crimes of rage - again, IF ABUSED; pot is more likely to destroy ambition and drive IF ABUSED. Alcohol abuse has no "upside"; pot abuse at least has a pleasant effect of allowing one to see other sides of problems and is more likely to promote peaceful coexistence than not.

    I know who I'd rather have for neighbors, given the choice between alcoholics and potheads.

  • Follow_The_Money27617 Nov 15, 2011

    Warbirdlover only expressed that he (or she) enjoys spending time in nature enjoying the Creation created by the Creator

    And we are enjoying our Creators natural creations. You can defend stupid if you want. Freedom of speech is great. I live in the city and the air is great! Im sure warbird has never taken as aspirin or given a prescription. Im calling it out for being a hypocrite.

  • davidgnews Nov 15, 2011

    "I think this should really be looked at alot closer."

    The scare tactics are working, and the consent is being manufactured.

    In terms of interviews, do you REALLY think the news would actually go out and try to find someone who had a FAVORABLE experience and get their story? Of course not, that is not how the game works.

    This isn't a build-up story, it's a tear-it-down story with a self-serving interest wearing the mask of 'community service.'

  • Pseudonym Nov 15, 2011

    Boy, dope smokers sure have a lot of unresolved anger issues! Look how they're ganging up against warbirdlover, who NEVER said government needs to step in and outlaw the drugs that stoners enjoy.

    Warbirdlover only expressed that he (or she) enjoys spending time in nature enjoying the Creation created by the Creator, whether you believe that's the Judeo-Christian God, Allah, Ra, or the Flying Spaghetti Monster. LIGHTEN UP, PEOPLE!!

  • Pseudonym Nov 15, 2011

    Quote from FollowTheMoney27617, who in turn is quoting warbirdlover: "I happen to drink naturally decaffinated organic Kona Coffee. No, I don't need to get high or drunk to enjoy life. Having to use chemicals natural or otherwise to feel alive is a crutch. Why would I want to exscape reality, when life is good. warbirdlover November 15, 2011 2:30 p.m. Report abuse

    THATS YOU. What part of PERSONAL LIBERTY do you not understand? If i work, pay taxes, and want to take a 4 gram bong hit when I get home who are you to tell me not to? AGAIN I work, and pay taxes, not sit on my porch scared of people. Until I infringe on YOUR liberties mind YOUR business. Get it Adolf?"

    WOO-HOO!! Somebody touched a nerve!! Warbirdlover NEVER EVER advocated for laws restricting your freedom. He/She just doesn't understand the attraction to marijuana. I agree. I don't understand it either. But I also will not stand in your way.

    Methinks thou dost protest too much!

  • goferit Nov 15, 2011

    Maybe, warbird, just maybe smoking dope is sometimes the only way to deal with the tooth-grinding agony of tolerating the smug, self-satisfied, patronizing fools who comprise the lowest common denominator of society where all the hummingbirds hum, and the coyotes howl, and the little dogies git along.

  • Follow_The_Money27617 Nov 15, 2011

    I happen to drink naturally decaffinated organic Kona Coffee. No, I don't need to get high or drunk to enjoy life. Having to use chemicals natural or otherwise to feel alive is a crutch. Why would I want to exscape reality, when life is good.
    warbirdlover
    November 15, 2011 2:30 p.m.
    Report abuse

    THATS YOU. What part of PERSONAL LIBERTY do you not understand? If i work, pay taxes, and want to take a 4 gram bong hit when I get home who are you to tell me not to? AGAIN I work, and pay taxes, not sit on my porch scared of people. Until I infringe on YOUR liberties mind YOUR business. Get it Adolf?

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