Hillsborough County, Florida -- Hillsborough County Code Enforcement officers delivered bad news to about 10 businesses on Wednesday. It came in the form of a violation notice.
The clerk at Alpa Chino Smoke Shop in Seffner got on the phone with the owner and then hid in an office when officers arrived.
The hand-delivered and also mailed letters inform store owners that investigators have found them in violation of the county's new spice ban. Hillsborough Commissioners passed the ordinance banning spice sales in February and, since then, local stores have been notified about the new rules.
"The sheriff's office began their undercover operation and purchased these banned substances from the very same retailers we'd already warned," said Kevin Jackson of Hillsborough Consumer Protection.
While the sheriff's office has conducted raids and seized massive amounts of spice, successful criminal prosecutions have been hard to come by, because spice makers keep changing their chemical recipe.
So that's why the county is trying this new tactic of imposing civil fines and they can be hefty - up to $500 for each individual packet. So for anyone selling the potentially dangerous drugs, sheriff's investigators say, look out.
"We're going to come and see you, make no mistake about it, we're going to come and see you," said Capt. Kyle Cockream at a Wednesday news conference. "We may not buy it on the first time, we may not buy it on the fifth time, but we're not going anywhere - we'll be back."
This is the first time owners have received violation notices and been scheduled for hearings under the new ordinance, but officials say in one respect, the new law has already been effective, because you can no longer find large spice racks out in the open. In order to buy spice in some cases, undercover officers had to know a secret password.
"This takes it to the next level," Cockream says of the ordinance. "We've taken it off the shelves, we've taken it out of the public's immediate hand reach; it's been driven underground."