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Store owners pull K2 incense off shelves

Patrons looking to find "spice" or "Mr. Smiley" locally could have a harder time now. In Elkhart, owners of 10 stores have agreed to pull the product from their shelves in response to an appeal from Mayor Dick Moore. In Goshen, a shop owner said Tuesday he is voluntarily discontinuing the product.
Emily Monacelli
Posted on May. 26, 2010 at 1:00 a.m. | Updated on May. 26, 2010 at 5:53 p.m.

ELKHART -- Patrons looking to find "spice" or "Mr. Smiley" locally could have a harder time now.

In Elkhart, owners of 10 stores have agreed to pull the product from their shelves in response to an appeal from Mayor Dick Moore. In Goshen, a shop owner said Tuesday he is voluntarily discontinuing the product.

Elkhart code enforcement officers have visited 20 convenience stores in the city as part of Mayor Dick Moore's appeal to store owners to discontinue the product. Of those stores, four said they will continue to sell it because it is legal. Six stores said they don't sell it and don't plan to sell it. The remaining 10 stores said they would stop selling the product, Moore said, citing city records.

"We're researching through our legal department what we can do here through a city ordinance," Moore said.

In South Bend, city council members are planning to ask store owners not to sell the incense, according to WNDU-TV, The Elkhart Truth's reporting partners.

People are buying K2 and consuming the incense in the same way marijuana is consumed. The herb is sprayed with a synthetic chemical that produces effects similar to marijuana. It does not contain THC and does not show up on drug tests.

Khalaf Mashhour doesn't own a shop in Elkhart, but the owner of Redskin Express in Goshen, a gas station and convenience store across the street from Goshen High School, has decided to stop selling K2.

As high school students came into Mashhour's store Tuesday on their lunch break to buy snacks, Mashhour said his store shouldn't sell something that has the same effects as marijuana, even though the incense is legal.

"We were the last ones to get it in the store," Mashhour said, adding that his store has carried the product for about two weeks. "I'm sorry to say I wish we wouldn't have gotten it."

Mashhour said he questioned if the incense was legal and safe and wasn't sure exactly what it was when he brought it into his store.

"That's the game everybody plays," he said. "If it's a new product (convenience store owners) get on it. If it's a new gum, they get on it."

Mashhour said that before he bought the incense to sell, he asked a wholesaler if it is harmful. He was told it wasn't, but after seeing media reports and conducting more research, the effects from smoking the incense have him concerned.

Mashhour said he has at least 2,000 jars of the incense left that he will take off the shelves and throw away. He'd rather take a loss on the product than keep selling it, knowing the effects it causes when inhaled.

"I think it's unethical to sell something like this," he said.

Though his store sits in close proximity to the high school, Mashhour said he never has sold K2 -- carried in his store under the brands Mr. Smiley, Rebel Spice and Smiley Dog -- to students. His clerks make buyers show identification and don't sell tobacco, the incense or any tobacco paraphernalia to people younger than 18, he said.

At a 7-Eleven store on Nappanee Street in Elkhart, clerk Tracy Millsaps said the store has sold one jar of the stuff in the week they've carried it -- and that was to a middle-aged adult. Store workers will sell the product to people older than 18, but they don't advertise that they have it.

"To be honest, I'd rather you smoke a cigarette," she said. "I'd rather sell you a pack of cigarettes."

Millsaps said she believes the product will be banned soon so store clerks haven't tried to push it to customers.

Despite claims from other Elkhart convenience store owners that the product was selling in big numbers, Mohammed Farhan never brought any K2 variations into his store at One Stop Shop, 1517 S. Sixth St. About two months ago Farhan got a call from a friend in Missouri who raved about the incense's popularity there.

"I could've been the first one to bring it into town," he said. "But there was something wrong about it, I guess."

Since he decided not to carry K2, he has had two wholesalers try to sell it to him and other area shop owners say that product has brought them more business.

People shouldn't be smoking the incense, one patron said after hearing Farhan talk about his decision not to sell it.

"I should start peeling shavings off my tire and tell them to put it in their pipe," she said.

Joe Lackey, president of the Indianapolis-based Indiana Grocery and Convenience Store Association, said owners of independent convenience stores are more likely to experiment in selling new products such as K2 than chain stores.

"I think a lot of the stores were putting it in because they had consumer demand for it, and now it's a questionable product," he said.

He said he doesn't see more stores adding the product if they don't already carry it. Because of recent media attention, store owners see it as a short-term product, he said.

"It's going to take legislation -- either state or nationally -- to impact it."



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