That Traveling Treasures on Chatham Road was selling pipes and so-called incense that – nudge, nudge, wink wink – was not intended for human consumption was no secret. After all, Traveling Treasures, which has been in business for 28 years and calls itself “the head shop that feels like home,” kept the stuff in plain view and advertised it on the store’s website.
“For the next couple of weeks, the store will be having an Xmas sale on Avalon,” reads a Dec. 12 posting on the store’s website. “Also within the next few days we will be receiving a whole new shipment in of new and improved Black Diamond and Platinum XXX.”
Four days later, the cops swooped in. Avalon and similar substances sold in small packets are synthetic drugs illegal under state law, according to court paperwork filed by an agent for the FBI, which seized more $5,100 from the store’s bank account one month after the raid.
No arrests were made, and no charges have been filed.
Art Campbell, the store’s owner, says he wasn’t doing anything wrong. After all, he points out, police knew that he was selling the stuff for at least a year before the raid.
Springfield police visited Traveling Treasures in December 2012 after an anonymous caller complained that his daughter had purchased synthetic marijuana, commonly called K2, at the store. Officers made no arrests but left with samples.
“At this time we were unable to determine if these items that are being sold here were illegal or not due to lack of information of the actual ingredients,” officers wrote in their 2012 report “(Campbell) was made aware of the situation…and was told that the product was going to be tested at the lab. SPD drug unit was also made aware of the situation.”
No arrests or seizures ensued.
Campbell said that city police subsequently responded to a burglary call at the store, where the product was openly kept and sold as incense, but took no action to curb sales.
“If that stuff is illegal, why didn’t they tell me that the many times they were in there?” Campbell asks. “I gave them the samples to check. They said they’d get right back to me. Now, all of a sudden, they’re saying it’s against the law.”
It’s not clear whether city police tested samples provided by Campbell in 2012.
“I cannot confirm or deny if the samples were tested because the investigation is open and ongoing,” said city spokesman Nathan Mihelich in an email.
Campbell, who says he saw no city police during the December raid, says that his wholesaler last fall provided him with a copy of a lab test showing that the product did not contain scores of ingredients considered illegal under laws in various states. But that might not make a difference under an Illinois statute that took effect nearly one year before police took samples but no action.
Concerned about manufacturers who tweaked formulas for synthetic drugs to get around laws banning certain ingredients, the Illinois General Assembly in 2011 approved a law that makes it a felony to falsely state that a synthetic drug is not intended for human consumption. Public safety and health were at stake, according to proponents who warned that synthetic drugs can kill.
“This stuff is dangerous,” St. Clair County state’s attorney Brendan Kelly told a House committee in urging passage.
That, Campbell says, is not necessarily his problem.
“It is something that can be abused, just like beer,” he allows. “Beer can be abused. … Once it goes out the door, I’m not responsible for it anymore.”
In addition to 1,600 packets of – take your pick – synthetic pot or incense, Campbell says that agents seized all of his pipes, which had a wholesale value of $50,000, and drug-testing kits that he sold for a fraction of what drugstores charge. Business, he says, has plummeted.
“We’re going to go bankrupt,” Campbell says. “We’re going to lose our house. We’re going to lose everything we’ve got.”
Contact Bruce Rushton at email@example.com.