City Council upholds revocation of smoke shop business license

ST. GEORGE – After tabling the issue in an April 4 meeting, the St. George City Council revisited an appeal concerning the business license revocation of Mike’s Smoke Cigar & Gifts. The smoke shop was the target of two searches by the Washington County Drug Task Force, one in January 2013 and an earlier one in April 2012, concerning the alleged sale of a product alleged to be spice, a synthetic drug designed to copy the effects of marijuana.  The January search resulted in the arrest of the store’s manager.

After a 45-minute long closed session to discuss potential legal issues surrounding the city’s final ruling, the city council voted unanimously to uphold the license revocation which will go into effect July 31.

Mike’s Smoke Cigar and Gifts, located at 1973 W. Sunset Blvd., has continued operating pending the council’s final ruling. The smoke shop’s Washington location on Red Cliffs Drive remains open.

We’re pro-business,” Councilman Gil Almquist said, “we’re not for business that hurts people.”

City Attorney Shawn Guzman said a written statement concerning the city’s reasoning for upholding the revocation would be sent to the smoke shop owners and their attorney.

Unlike the April 4 meeting in which the owners of the smoke shop and their legal counsel, Ryan Holdaway, were present and appealing the revocation, no one in support of the smoke shop was present during the Thursday meeting.

Holdaway said he didn’t know about the city’s ruling until after the fact. “The only time I heard about it was last night,” he said, having been contacted by local media following the council meeting.

Holdaway, who acts as legal counsel in various spice-related cases across the state, said he was under the impression that the city council had tabled a final ruling pending the outcome of the criminal investigation that grew out of the drug task force’s searches of the St. George smoke shop.

I have no reason to check the agenda if I’ve been told (the city council was) waiting on a resolution in the criminal case,” Holdaway said.

That criminal case involves Kyle Max Best, the manager of the St. George store, who was arrested for selling packets of a plant material called “Reborn,” which the task force alleges contained analogs, or chemically-created mimics, of controlled substances – essentially making it a spice-like substance in the eyes of the drug task force and its interpretation of Utah law.

Test results of “Reborn” done at the state crime lab determined that “Reborn” contained the analog AM-694, an illegal substance under Utah law. Holdaway argued before the council in the April 4 meeting that the chemical in Reborn was actually XLR-11, which wasn’t listed under the law as being a controlled substance.

Best currently faces a third-degree felony charge of drug possession with the intent to distribute. According to court records, Best is accused of selling Reborn to customers while alleged knowing those customers would smoke and ingest the substance. Best pleaded “not guilty” to the charge and is currently scheduled for a two-day trial jury near the end of August.

Holdaway said the city’s ruling will likely be appealed in district court and submitted for judicial review. “We now have a civil case and a criminal case,” he said.

The city should have waited for the court to make the final decision, Holdaway said, as the court would have better access to expert testimony and resources than the city would. Holdaway also said he is preparing to challenge the constitutionality of Utah’s current spice laws.

St. George City Attorney Shawn Guzman said the burden of proof a city needs to revoke a business license is not on the same level as it would be in a criminal trial. He added the city council had reviewed “substantial evidence” that led the council members to believe that what the smoke shop had been selling was harmful and illegal.

Guzman also said the state reviews its list of analogs on a regular basis and adds new chemicals to the list of controlled substances each year. This is because manufacturers try to stay a step ahead of the law by creating new chemical brews that have yet to be criminalized. XRL-11 may not have been on the list last year, but it is now, he said

We believe (the smoke shop) violated the law,” Guzman said.

According to the Drug Enforcement Administration, the constantly changing chemical mix is also what makes spice concoctions so dangerous and potentially fatal.

During the national spice takedown that centered around the St. George area June 26, DEA agent Barbara Roach called spice a “wolf in sheep’s clothing” because there was really no way of knowing exactly what buyers were getting and putting into their bodies.

Aside from experiencing marijuana-like effects, users could also become ill and experience anything from vomiting and hallucinations to more severe and violent symptoms, including death.

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Copyright St. George News, LLC, 2013, all rights reserved.



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  • Tyler July 20, 2013 at 12:54 am

    Screw the City Council and their ways of damaging our local economy.

    • Steve July 20, 2013 at 11:35 pm

      What a childish response. Grow up, and take some responsibility for a healthy community. May all of the so-called smoke shops be shut down for harming people. And frankly, anyone who doesn’t want to live in a nice place like St. George can seek their thrills in big cities all over.

  • Loui Luana July 20, 2013 at 12:58 am

    How will this city ever grow if the “leaders” continue keeping the curtain closed in a diversifying population requiring a diversifying market?

  • The Real Truth July 20, 2013 at 7:07 pm

    Why is city government imposing there morals on us. Spice is just like any other legal drug for example Lortab (acetaminophen and hydrocodone) the FDA says the side effects are seizure (convulsions); shallow breathing, slow heartbeat; feeling light-headed, fainting; confusion, fear, unusual thoughts or behavior;
    Everyone knows what they do. They make you feel better. In other words THEY GET YOU HIGH!!!

  • Alvin July 20, 2013 at 7:20 pm

    Tyler and Loui: Selling “Spice” is against the law. I guess this shop has violated that law several times and then lost their license. If they wanted to keep their smoke shop in business they should have quit selling Spice type substances. It’s just that simple. Not too hard to understand I guess.

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