Alarmed by reports of kids and adults getting sick on synthetic drugs, South Florida declared war on the manmade weed and psychoactive bath salts being sold openly at local stores.
Cities and counties throughout the region passed bans last year after dozens landed in emergency rooms in a psychotic rage, fearing they were at death's door.
Did the bans work?
"I think we can claim some major successes," says Jim Hall, a researcher at Nova Southeastern University who has been tracking the problem of emerging psychoactive drugs. "Not victory. But successes. The local retail bans did have an effect. It didn't solve the problem. But it did win a few battles."
Still, one Fort Lauderdale mom says her 21-year-old son can still buy synthetic marijuana from a Sunoco station in Pompano Beach.
"I feel like I am fighting a losing battle," Tina Bush said. "My son is freely able to buy it. It's been a year and nothing has changed."
For the most part, candy-like packages of herbal incense and psychoactive bath salts have disappeared from the shelves of gas stations and convenience stores, Hall and others say. Doctors say there's fewer people being rushed to emergency rooms. And calls to Poison Control centers have dropped, records show.
But if you really want synthetic marijuana, you can still buy it online.
And some South Florida stores have resorted to clandestine sales, keeping the products out of view and selling only to regulars who ask for it by name, says Lauderhill Police Chief Andrew Smalling.
"We're still finding people are able to access it," he said. "It's definitely gone underground."
In Palm Beach County, deputies still conduct random checks to make sure the drugs stay off shelves, said Teri Barbera, spokeswoman for the Palm Beach Sheriff's Office.
"The threat is still out there," she said. "We know that they are not selling openly, but have found that they are selling secretly under the counter."
The number of synthetic cannabinoids — manmade weed sold under names like Spice, K2 and Mr. Nice Guy — and bath salt stimulants detected by South Florida crime labs increased by 10-fold between 2011 and 2012, said Hall, epidemiologist at the Center for Applied Research on Substance Use and Health Disparities at NSU.
But as the bans took hold, calls to Poison Control centers around the state dropped.
Calls to Poison Control centers in Florida dropped to 109 in the first seven months of 2013, compared with a total of 537 in 2012 and 517 in 2011.
In 2012, Broward logged 37 calls while Miami-Dade had 45 and Palm Beach County had 24.
"The bans are working," said David Gross, special agent supervisor with the Florida Department of Law Enforcement. "They're not nearly as prevalent and on display. The genie is out of the bottle and they know they need to conceal it or they are going to pop up on law enforcement's radar."
In May 2012, Sweetwater became the first city in the state and possibly the nation to ban the sale of all incense that's not on a stick in an effort to outlaw fake weed.
Sunrise followed suit on June 12, becoming the first city in Broward County to ban synthetic marijuana.