Calhoun County deputies arrested Carl Lackey May 24 after raiding Cosmic Debris, Lackey’s music store on Quintard Avenue, where he allegedly had been selling “spice,” a common name for synthetic marijuana, now illegal in Alabama.
The arrest was the first in the county, but not in the state of Alabama. On May 14, police in Huntsville raided a grocery store and seized 1,000 grams of packages of synthetic marijuana, according to the Huntsville Times. Similar arrests have been reported in Decatur.
Law officials are beginning to crack down now that legislation, signed into law in May by Gov. Robert Bentley, has taken effect. Senate Bill 208, the “spice law,” makes it illegal to manufacture, possess or distribute synthetic marijuana in the state of Alabama. Perhaps more importantly, it clarifies what exactly the drug is.
Last year municipalities throughout Alabama tried banning the substances with local ordinances that proved largely ineffective. That’s because the chemical compounds that make up the products can easily be altered to create new compounds. The new substance can’t be tested for as an illegal product if the chemical breakdown isn’t banned.
“The challenge has been for law enforcement is if you change one molecule of the chemical makeup, you do not have the same chemical description,” said Calhoun County Sheriff Larry Amerson said. “Drug dealers have been effective at avoiding prosecution by slightly changing the chemical.”
But Senate Bill 208 contains a “catch-all” clause that effectively bans any substance with effects that replicate the experience of taking spice.
The broad language makes it a crime for a person to create a substance that “represents or intends that substance to have a stimulant, depressant, or hallucinogenic effect … substantially similar to or greater” than the listed controlled substances of synthetic marijuana.
Attempts Thursday to reach Barry Matson, deputy director of the Alabama District Attorney’s Association, who helped draft the legislation, were unsuccessful.
Amerson said early arrests like the one the county made of Lackey will set precedent on how the law is applied, but said investigation into the distribution of spice at Cosmic Debris had been going on before the legislation passed.
Under Alabama law, Amerson said, Lackey could have been arrested even if he wasn’t selling a banned substance, but claimed he was.
“If I sell you soap, but tell you it’s crack cocaine, that’s the same as selling crack cocaine,” Amerson said. “It may not be exactly spice, but it has the same purpose and effect.”
In many ways, the new legislation is just clarifying what law enforcement officials have already known is illegal, Amerson said, and the Cosmic Debris raid was a perfect example.
“It was very clear from our investigation that Mr. Lackey knew the effects these substances had on people and he fully understood what he was doing,” Amerson said. “He is not an innocent guy who happened to make a mistake. The law is intended for guys like him.”
Lackey is currently out of jail on bond. His court date is scheduled for June 21.
Star staff writer Brian Anderson: 256-235-3546. On Twitter @BAnderson_Star.