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Two Pensacola Men Among 12 Indicted For Synthetic Marijuana

Lance Cpl. Damany S. Coleman - This Image was released by the United States Marine Corps with the ID 100201-M-3762C-001

  Two Pensacola businessmen face federal charges in connection with “spice” – synthetic marijuana. The arrests come two years after the Florida law banning the substances had its genesis with a Pensacola legislator.

A federal grand jury in Virginia indicted Ben Galecki and Burton Ritchie on charges of conspiracy to distribute Spice. Ten others face similar charges in connection with a multi-state distribution ring that operated through a network of retail stores in 47 states.

Galecki is CEO of Pensacon, the annual sci-fi and pop culture event in Pensacola. He and Ritchie are the co-founders of the production company Heretic Films. They’re being held in the Santa Rosa County Jail without bond.

Spice gained widespread attention in 2013 as a more potent, cheaper alternative to actual marijuana – and sold legally in gas stations, tobacco shops and convenience stores, among other places.

“I don’t have to tell you that synthetic drugs are wreaking havoc on our community and our kids,” said Attorney General Pam Bondi in 2013. She pointed to more than 11,000 spice-related emergency room visits in 2010.

“Seventy-five percent of those visits were from people ranging from age 12 to 29,” Bondi said. “And alarmingly, many of those were from ages 12 to 17.”

In 2012, Bondi signed an emergency order outlawing 120 substances that were used to make synthetic pot. When the order expired in 2013, she turned to the Legislature.

“During the 2013 session we plan on working with lawmakers to make these permanently illegal,” said Bondi. “Our children are overdosing. These have now hit our entire state.”

“The end game here is to eventually put economic on the retailers,” said Rep. Clay Ingram (R-Pensacola). “And I don’t think a responsible retailer is going to try to sell the stuff, anyway. It’s someone who’s trying to make a buck, regardless of who is hurt.”

Ingram introduced legislation to ban 22 substances targeted by the Attorney General, and make their possession a crime. Since manufacturers would change the drugs’ chemical formula to make them legal again, Ingram said it was akin to “chasing a moving target.”

“To keep something on the state law books that allowed them to prosecute these criminals, and that’s what we’re having to do,” Ingram said.

Ingram’s measure was similar to one filed in the state Senate by Sen. Rob Bradley of Orange Park. But, most of the 22 substances listed were not included in the Synthetic Drug Abuse Prevention Act passed by Congress in 2012.

“It says that if a drug is similar in makeup to something that’s already banned, and is similar on the body’s nervous system, that it essentially will count as being on the banned substance list,” said Ingram. “The problem is, that it’s hard to test for these drugs. Law enforcement is not comfortable using that statute to make arrests, and the state attorneys are definitely not comfortable prosecuting.”

After getting unanimous approval in four committees, Ingram’s the anti-Spice bill – listing 27 substances -- was passed and signed into law in 2013.