DENVER - Nine people have been indicted by a federal grand jury in Denver as part of a national crackdown on synthetic marijuana.
Federal and state officials said Wednesday that the suspects are linked with a company called Heart of Asia that distributed the drug to smoke shops in several states. It's owned by John Gilbert Owen, of Las Vegas, who was among those arrested under the indictment starting Wednesday morning. It's not clear where he was being held or if he has a lawyer.
Investigators say the business sold to shops in Wisconsin, Nebraska, Alaska, Ohio, Georgia and Illinois as well Colorado.
While real marijuana is legal in Colorado, synthetic pot is not.
An official who spoke at Wednesday's press conference said more than 200 people have been hospitalized in Colorado because of spice. It also linked to three deaths in the state.
Stephane Colbert said her son Nicholas Colbert's life was cut short because of spice.
"Kids are, the ones that pass before us, they are in a better place. But those that are left behind are the ones that have to pick up the pieces," said Stephane Colbert.
Stephane Colbert believes her 19-year-old son bought spice from Kwik Stop on South Chelton. She is currently in a lawsuit with the convenience store.
Gordon Walker's 19-year-old son Joshua Walker was put in a two-week coma because of spice. He pulled through, but it was a trying time for Gordon Walker.
"Being in there, watching him laying there in that bed ... That hurt," said Walker.
Spice was outlawed in Colorado in 2011. It didn't stop gas stations and convenience stores from selling it.
Colorado Springs police say 69.28 grams of suspected spice was seized, along with $578 cash from B Street Smoke Shop on B Street in El Paso County in October.
That same month the Drug Enforcement Administration seized 156 pounds of spice from Spice of Life on South Academy.
Police seized 96 grams of synthetic marijuana from Qwik Way store off Lake Avenue in Fountain. The owner of the convenience store, Kong Hoon Kim, told KRDO NewsChannel he didn't know the drug was illegal.
"They think I am some kind of big dealer, mafia, something like that. I'm not," said Kim.
Law enforcement that spoke at Wednesday's press conference emphasized that absolutely no brand of spice is safe. Also, no spice products have been approved by the Food and Drug Administration.
According to a press release following the press conference, defendants face charges ranging from conspiracy to defraud the United States and violate the Controlled Substances Act to distribution and possession with intent to distribute a controlled substance. Penalties range from not more than five years in federal prison up to not more than 20 years in federal prison, depending on the nature of the charge.