Gainesville police say nearly 30 people were hospitalized after smoking synthetic marijuana.
It started Friday morning with calls that people were having seizures in Gainesville's downtown plaza, home to a lot of the area's homeless. At about the same time, calls for help came a couple miles away at the Sweetwater Branch homeless camp. Over the course of five hours, at least a dozen people were desperately ill. Emergency workers and Gainesville police officers knew they had a major problem.
"We started quickly realizing that all the symptoms were the same," said Ben Tobias with the Gainesville Police Department. "They were seizing, and it seemed to be after smoking "spice," or synthetic marijuana."
Law enforcement officers from Gainesville, the University of Florida, and the Alachua County Sheriff's Office began putting up fliers at homeless gathering spots, warning people to not use the synthetic marijuana.
By the next day, there were 16 more people sick for a total of 28 people in the hospital. Eventually, investigators say they traced nearly all of the cases back to one downtown Gainesville smoke shop called Land B4 Time. A joint task force raided the shop on Saturday.
"We did seize what we believe are several pounds of what we believe was the same substance that was very toxic, and a large amount of cash, a shotgun from the business and some other drug paraphernalia," said Tobias.
No one was arrested or charged with anything at the shop, but a sign on the front window said "Closed For Ever."
A Gainesville police officer actually drove a sample of the confiscated drugs to a Jacksonville laboratory for testing today. They want to figure out why it was toxic. They hope to have results back by the end of the week.