At Coffee Wonk, Micah Riggs built a synthetic-pot empire 

Page 5 of 6

To protect his investment in Florida, Riggs has hired Brady Benford, a Tallahassee lobbyist whose clients include R.J. Reynolds Tobacco and the Churchill Downs racetrack. Benford's job is to make sure Syn gets a fair chance at the market. But for now, he sounds fairly unequipped to do so.

"I'd never heard of anything like it before," Benford says in a phone interview. "I really don't know if there's any template for how to deal with anything like this. I do know I'm not the only lobbyist Micah's spoken with. I'm sure he'll have people working for him in other states. But I don't know how anyone is going to proceed because the media coverage of Syn and K2 has always been so negative. It's hard to get a fair hearing for these chemicals that, really, no one knows about and no one really knows if they're harmful or not.

"I think there'll be some people at the Statehouse who'll be willing to listen that there's a need for research. Beyond that, I really don't know how we deal with it," he adds. "Honestly, I'm sure just about everyone in Missouri knows more about this than me right now."

Benford's work in Florida may not matter. Earlier this week, the Drug Enforcement Administration enacted a temporary emergency ban on five chemicals used to manufacture Syn and K2. Starting on December 24, synthetic marijuana will be illegal — on the same level as heroin, cocaine and actual weed — for the next 12 to 18 months, while the Department of Health and Human Services researches them. The people making money off these products haven't yet mounted a defense, if they even plan to.

"[I'm] still selling until it becomes official," Riggs e-mailed The Pitch after the ban was announced.


The woman working the register picks up her black ballpoint pen as soon as the customer comes in, as though she already knows what he wants. In khakis and a baby-blue polo, the visitor doesn't dress anything like the people loitering on the sidewalks on this early October afternoon. A clamshell cell phone is clipped to the brown belt holding the office-worker ensemble together.

"Can I get a bag of the Smooth?" he asks, referring to one of the nine flavors of "incense" that Coffee Wonk carries.

"Sorry, the police took everything," she tells him. "We're supposed to have stuff back within a week. So come back in a couple days and hopefully we can help you out."

He nods and leaves quietly. She lowers the pen to a piece of ruled notebook paper, adding a tick to the 200 or so little ink lines, a tally that started after the police showed up four days ago. It's a way to remind Riggs how much money he's losing at $30 a bag.

Riggs was home when he got the call from his barista. At around 7:30 a.m. on an October morning, an unidentified man burst into Coffee Wonk, pointed a gun at the cashier and demanded the contents of the register. Like anyone who was just robbed, she called the cops. But after they took statements about the robbery, Riggs says, the officers started asking questions about what Riggs was selling.

"I tried to tell them that this is a totally different compound from the stuff that was banned," Riggs says. "He told me I ought to sign off on a search, just as a sign of good faith that would help things along. I thought it was the right thing, and I want to get along with the police. I guess I was stupid."

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