A blonde walks up to a kiosk at the Swap Shop on Saturday and asks for a packet of Cloud Nine, a popular brand of synthetic marijuana.
A clerk reaches behind the counter and hands over a powder-blue packet with a smiley-face cloud. She doesn't realize her customer is an undercover cop. Within minutes, a team of undercover officers from Lauderhill swoop in. The kiosk is now a crime scene.
Charges are pending against the clerk and another woman who police say may have been covertly selling synthetic marijuana. Saturday's operation was the culmination of a four-month investigation that began after police got a tip that manmade weed was being sold at the Swap Shop.
"This is our first investigation into the synthetic marijuana underground trade," said Lt. Gary Celetti, commander of the Strategic Enforcement Team for the Lauderhill Police Department. Celetti's team handles narcotics and burglary investigations.
Like other cities throughout the region, Lauderhill passed its own ban on synthetic marijuana and psychoactive bath salts last year after learning the designer drugs were sending some users to the hospital.
A year ago, Sunrise police arrested a man who claimed he was high on Cloud Nine when he attacked his friend with a butcher knife. The man told police he bought the stuff from a Lauderhill store.
Saturday's synthetic marijuana bust was the first for Lauderhill.
"They keep the Spice hidden away and secretly sell it in tobacco shops like this one," Celetti says. "The business is very lucrative based on the amount of money we seized today."
An undercover officer has bought Cloud Nine from the same kiosk twice before, police say.
Before Saturday's bust, the Lauderhill Police Department had the Cloud Nine packet tested. They made plans to move in after the Broward Sheriff's Office Crime Lab confirmed the packet contained a chemical compound that's illegal in Florida.
Behind the counter at the Tobacco Shop on Saturday, officers found black bags filled with Cloud Nine and two other brands, Scooby Snax and Gold Caution, that will be sent to a crime lab for testing.
In all, they seized 23 packets of Cloud Nine sold for $15 a piece, a laptop, address books and $1,504 in cash, mostly in $1 bills.
The two women — the clerk who police say sold the Cloud Nine and a shop owner — were taken to headquarters for questioning.
Police haven't released their names, pending the investigation. If arrested, police say they may be charged with selling "XLR-11," a synthetic drug banned by Attorney General Pam Bondi in December.
The crime is a third-degree felony punishable by up to five years in prison.
"Nice job, guys," Celetti told his team before heading back to the station.
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