Photo illustration of spice.
Photo illustration of spice. (Jon Austria/The Daily Times)
FARMINGTON — A smoke shop in Flora Vista has been robbed at gunpoint three times in the last two months.

Rollet Smoke Shop, 1010 New Mexico 516, was robbed at about 9:20 p.m. on Monday night, San Juan County Sheriff's Office Lt. Cory Tanner said.

The suspect, described as a heavyset man, had a .22-caliber rifle. Police say he pointed it at store employees and robbed the business of money and its product.

The man ran from the business after the robbery. Sheriff's deputies searched nearby for him and the helicopter circled the area, but the suspect escaped capture, Tanner said.

Rollet was robbed by a suspect matching the same description on March 26 and April 23. Each of the robberies happened in the late evening as the business was preparing to close, according to the sheriff's office.

"The methods and the description of the suspect are all consistent with one another," Tanner said.

Rollet is one of about nine smoke shops in San Juan County.

The businesses sell glass pipes that cost between $10 and $400. The pipes are legal until they are used to smoke marijuana, at which they come drug paraphernalia and are a petty misdemeanor to possess, said Neil Haws, the director of the Region II Narcotics Task Force, an anti-drug trafficking agency comprised of deputies and Farmington and Bloomfield police officers.

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Rollet is one of several of the smoke shops that sell a product that labeled as incense or potpourri but is often called "spice" on the street, Haws said.

During each of the robberies, the suspect took money and spice, Tanner said.

Rollet employees said each robbery took place on the business' "shipment day," which means it received large quantities of the substance.

The owner of the business did not return a call for comment.

The product is a green leafy substance that says on the label it is not for human consumption. But unlike potpourri, it is sold by the gram and can produce a high-like trance if is ingested or smoked, Haws said.

The high comes from chemicals that are sprayed onto any type of plant, he said.

An 18-year-old Farmington woman, who asked not to be named, was working at Rollet during each robbery. She said the suspect walked with a limp, avoided Rollet's security cameras and wore a ski mask or bandana during each robbery.

First he demanded spice and had her put it in a cooler or a pack. Then he asked for the money that was in the register, she said.

The robbery victim said during each robbery the suspect stole hundreds of 2-gram bags of product that are sold for $20 each.

"Now I know why my mom always told me not to work at a smoke shop," she said.

Spice is a headache for police all over the country, Haws said.

There is no readily available test so police can quickly learn the chemicals in a suspicious substance. And the suppliers are constantly tweaking the substance's chemical properties to avoid ordinances and laws.

"It's a bad deal," he said. "It's very popular among young people and we know it's wrong ... but there's no way for an officer to go in there and say, 'That's spice' and take it."

Ryan Boetel can be reached at rboetel@daily-times.com; 505-564-4644. Follow him on Twitter @rboetel.