HORRY COUNTY, SC (WMBF) - Teens call it "legal weed." Store owners market it as incense and concerned parents say one sex-oriented store draws teens in for synthetic "marijuana" with the risk of sexual activity.
Parents say they're so worried about it and what goes on inside the store selling it, they called WMBF News, in hopes of warning others.
"Just about every night I lay down, I cry," said Mona Stamper. The tears on Mona Stamper's cheek stem from frustration. "I was furious and I was hurt, and was sitting there watching my son, mess himself up, and I couldn't get any help from anybody."
Stamper's 17-year-old son Josh, now living out of state with his dad, is addicted to the 'next big thing' since the now banned bath salts, according to his mom. Stamper explains that Josh lost 15 pounds in three weeks, was hungry but threw up everything he ate.
"I called you because I wanted parents to know, and police said there was little they could do about this product," states Stamper.
It appears Josh is hardly alone. "How many classmates at North Myrtle Beach High School are doing this stuff?" asked Maely to 17-year-old Eric Hall.
"At least hundreds, you can ask anyone," admits Hall. "Everyone knows about it and many are smoking it at parties, because it's one thing they can get easily."
Teens like Hall call it "legal weed," retailers call it incense or potpourri. The Little River adult video store called Celebrations at 2229 Highway 17 in Little River, is where Hall says every teen in the area is buying it.
"I've probably spent over 800 bucks just buying legal [weed]," confides Hall.
Hall says he's started buying it from the 18-and-over store at the age of 15. He said in that time, no one ever asked him for his identification when he came in to buy the product or even when he asked to buy cigarettes.
Stoned almost daily, Hall and another teen went back to the store for more legal weed after hours one night this summer. Hall says he a 15-year-old friend named Leo Avellano tried to break into the store.
"We did toss a rock through the window, because we were on this [substance]. You can't really think when you're on it, you know," said Hall.
The teens turned themselves in to police, but were so high, they don't remember the night.
"It's terrifying. I'd definitely be shocked to see what I was doing on that video," said Hall.
Laura Munro was shocked to see the surveillance video too.
"It was very scary. I just couldn't believe my child did that," said Munro, who is Leo's mom. She says her 15-year-old son was also addicted to the substance. "He was so desperate that he would commit a felony for a $20 bag of weed; it's sad," said Munro.
In fact, several moms who contacted WMBF News say they have a child who is or was addicted to the substance.
Mona went to Celebrations, twice, to discourage the owner from letting her son inside.
"His words to me were that he could sell the product to a five year old if he wanted," said Stamper. "My argument with that was, 'you're supposed to be 18 years old to walk in the door'."
But there appears to be much more than so called "legal weed" for teens inside the shop. Mona's son Josh told WMBF News he was encouraged more than once to receive oral sex through a hole in the wall called a "glory hole."
"Yes, it's oral sex, he told me about it," claims Stamper. "They just told him to go check it out. It makes me feel sick. How can they let this happen?"
The allegations of sex don't stop with Josh. WMBF News heard from another concerned parent who says her son was told he could pay to get in without an ID, and was offered to trade oral sex for fake weed if he didn't have the money.
With an undercover camera rolling, WMBF News went to Celebrations, and within seconds we stumbled onto two men who appeared to be engaged in oral sex in one of the back video rooms, their door, open.
"Do you know if they have, like, a glory hole down there?" asked our undercover employee to the shop attendant.
"Yes, they do, they have couples going down there, sometimes they like to be watched," said a man inside one of the video booths. "I like a glory hole because I like to stick myself in there and imagine who's doing me," said the man to our employee before he asked if our employee wanted to join him.
On your way out, behind the counter, you pass the so called "legal weed." Buyers aren't supposed to smoke it, it says so on the packages, and with our camera still rolling, we hear one employee tell another customer not to even talk about smoking it.
"We don't smoke." And that employee told our undercover employee he's not legally allowed to say the "S word," referring to the word smoke. "I have to tell you, it's not for human consumption," said the employee.
The shop employee then sells us a pipe, located near the product.
Horry County Police say they can only test products they buy or find on someone they arrest, and Chief Saundra Rhodes confirmed that police did buy some of the product in the store after getting complaints in the form of an anonymous letter.
Rhodes told WMBF News the product tested contained none of the chemicals that were banned recently in bath salts. Horry County Police said they've not found any illegal such products in the county since they announced the ban of bath salts last October.
Authorities in Myrtle Beach, however, arrested the owner of the Red Hot Shoppe for selling illegal bath salts in August of this year.
WMBF News Anchor Michael Maely went into Celebrations with a camera rolling in plain sight.
"Hi. Are you guys letting minors in here to buy products at all?" asked Maely to a woman who identified herself as Mis.
"No. Sir, you'll have to leave," she stated.
Maely left his card for the store's owner, Greg Gore, to call him back, but not before approaching another employee on the way out.
"Can you answer any questions about people under 18 buying products here?" asked Maely.
"Nobody under 18 buys products," claimed the employee.
"We were just hearing that some 16 and 17-year-olds were buying stuff," Maely retorted.
"Not happening at all," the employee stated again.
"And no sex, no oral sex going on here at all?" questioned Maely.
"No, sir," said the employee.
"No glory holes or anything like that?" Maely pressed.
"No, sir," again, from the employee.
"And what's your name?" inquired Maely.
"Doesn't matter, thank you," the store employee offered.
But the group of concerned moms we talked to had a much different opinion and a much different mission.
"I couldn't sweep it under the rug. If I help Josh or I hope anybody else, that's what I wanna do," said Stamper.
Horry County Police say sexual activity could lead to solicitation or prostitution charges.
The Celebrations business license is listed as a non-adult business, since owners say less than 50 percent of their sales are made up of adult products, but WMBF News learned the license was revoked in 2009 after complaints that it was, in fact, an adult business. However, the license was reinstated after an appeal. Horry County told WMBF News it could be revoked if an owner or employee has three convictions.
Even though the product teens are getting high on, which goes by names such as Category 6 Blueberry Blast and Primo Remix, is currently legal, authorities say it can be dangerous.
Chief Rhodes told WMBF News, "The Horry County Police Department would strongly urge all individuals to not purchase or use any synthetic drug as I do not believe that there has been enough research done to know the long-term effects of its use, but until they have been banned, we simply have no jurisdiction over them."
Rhodes went on to say, "I would plead with all parents of teenage children to include these ‘legal' drugs in their conversations with them about the illegal drugs and to do it as soon as possible. I also suggest that parents educate themselves about all types of drugs and their effects; parents who are informed can help correct any misconceptions that their children may have."
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