For the past 3 months, I’ve been conducting an undercover investigation into “spice” in Utah. It’s an illegal drug police call the chemical version of marijuana. (see my story – “ABC 4 Investigates: Spice in the City.”)
My boss wanted me to find out - Who is selling this drug here? Obviously you can’t just ask people – Hey are you selling illegal drugs? You gotta be sneaky about it. So to expose this problem we at ABC 4 realized I needed to go on the frontlines. I need to do buy it myself, and I needed to get it on tape. That’s the tricky part. Clearly, no one would sell to me with my camera crew along for the ride. So we decided I would go undercover, armed with a hidden camera to catch these drug dealers in the act.
Back on November 10, 2011, one of my photographers and I dressed up in some grubby looking clothes and started searching for places police told us were known for selling this stuff.
My camera man wore a hidden camera device. And I walked in with my only my cell phone camera. At three different stores, clerks told us the cops had just cleaned them out, and they would have some next week. Most of them were in the Millcreek area. At one store, we even had a random drug user come in and try to buy some spice for himself, as we were filming. (Had the audio been any better at that moment we would’ve included that part in my story.)
After four failed attempts we heard we could buy spice at a downtown Salt Lake gas station that would later become the focus of my story. We walked in, and asked for potpourri. Police tell me that’s the nickname this drug goes by right now. The store clerk didn’t hesitate. She crouched down and pulled out a bag of “Dank” from under the counter. On the label for this drug, much like other brands, it reads “not for human consumption.” But that doesn’t mean it’s not a drug. In fact police say the bogus label is often a smoke screen for these drug peddlers to get out of trouble. Drug makers label it as a type of herbal incense, but really it’s meant to be smoked. So, if I was going to confirm this was legit, I needed to have the store clerk admit it really was a drug. That’s why I asked her “How high will this get you?” She replied, “I don’t know, but they say it’s very strong.” That’s proof enough, she knew it was not incense, and that she knew I was buying it with the intent to smoke it. So we had the drugs in hand, and whole thing on tape. We now had the evidence we needed to convince police to take action. As you saw in my story, they did just that.
Admittedly, when I was undercover, there were several times I thought we’d get caught. I’m no undercover cop. The only training I received was a quick crash course over the phone with police. I was worried these drug dealers would spot me out, and rough me up. I had no idea what to expect. Perhaps it was dumb luck that we interacted with less violent dealers. I’m sure at least one of them was suspicious. TV people, like me, are generally too clean cut to pull this kind of thing off, and I’m no exception. Although I will tell you this, when you do an illegal drug story, you get a lot of jokes about getting too involved in your work.