Why an Elk Grove Village smoke shop has been shut down for 30 days

In a first during his 25-year tenure, Elk Grove Village Mayor Craig Johnson has suspended the tobacco license of a smoke shop for selling THC and nicotine vape products to minors.

Johnson slapped the 30-day suspension on Luv 2 Smoke, 62 Biesterfield Road, and ordered that when the shop reopens March 16, employees must card everyone and in-store cameras have to be in working order and available for police review.

The license suspension follows a monthslong police investigation that resulted in citations for two store clerks who sold tobacco to people under the legal age of 21 in January and early February, according to police. Those ordinance violation cases are pending.

Anthony Mazzuca, who specializes in the police department's youth investigations, said he's been told numerous times by parents and kids that the store has been sought out by youngsters - some, as young as 12 - because they've been able to buy products without getting carded.

"It was like to them common knowledge: If you want something, you can go there to get it," Mazzuca said during the license suspension hearing late last week at village hall.

Nick Patel, at the hearing representing the owner, his uncle who currently is out of the country, said they were not aware of what the now-former employees were doing. Patel said his family runs a number of stores in the suburbs that haven't had similar violations.

"The only thing I can say is there are multiple things that totally went wrong," Patel said. "The buck does stop at the owners. Stuff didn't come our way, but that's not an excuse. We could've monitored it better."

The police investigation began last May when a parent reported that her underage son purchased tobacco and vape products from the store. In September, another kid doing a ride-along with a police officer said, "Hey, that's where all my friends get their stuff," according to Mazzuca.

More allegations of underage sales came from the mother of a 15-year-old Elk Grove High School sophomore in September. In November, an underage confidential informant working for police bought tobacco at the shop.

That's when Mazzuca said he gave one of the store employees a verbal warning.

In December, Grove Junior High School Assistant Principal Laena DiVito told police that two female students gave a male classmate $60 to purchase THC gummies at the store. Ingesting it led one of the girls to vomit at school, Mazzuca said.

After conducting surveillance of the store in January, Mazzuca wrote the first citation to a clerk for selling a nicotine vape pen to an 18-year-old Elk Grove High School student. The next month, police issued a citation after another underage informant bought a vape pen with delta-8 THC.

The substance is derived from marijuana and has "psychoactive and intoxicating effects," similar to delta-9 THC - the "high" people experience from using marijuana, according to the Food and Drug Administration.

The FDA hasn't evaluated or approved the product for safe use, but it's available for purchase in stores and online.

"If regular THC that gets you intoxicated is 100 proof of whiskey, then this is a glass of wine," Mazzuca said.

Johnson directed Village Attorney George Knickerbocker to research whether such products could be prohibited from sale in the village. And if not, Johnson said, he might bring back his controversial proposal to bar tobacco sales outright in town.

"To say that this has been an unfortunate enlightenment of many issues in this state is an understatement," Johnson said. "I had no clue of products being sold in this town with THC in it, and the effects you're now seeing. Basically, you eat three gummy bears, you're buying a joint. Then to think on top of it, we're letting the young people get it as young as 12 years of age. That's the age of my oldest grandchild. That to me crosses the line beyond belief."

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