No jail time in ‘spice’ raids
By James Peacemaker, Jr. Managing Editor
Aug 27, 2013, 11:30
COLONIAL HEIGHTS -- Three people who were charged with selling synthetic marijuana after police raided two shops earlier this year will not serve jail time.
The raids of the Valero gas station on the Boulevard and Tobacco Zone were announced only a few days after Gov. Bob McDonnell signed legislation March 20 expanding what was considered an illegal cannabinoid. Manufacturers had been able to get around the law by changing the chemicals used in the drug, often referred to as spice. The chemicals are sometimes marketed as potpourri, incense or bath salts.
Colonial Heights police said they had been getting numerous complaints about Tobacco Zone, which was located at 127 Pickwick Ave. and has since closed down. The location is now being rented by Side Street Gallery.
Surjit Kaur and Santokh Singh of Chester were indicted May 7 and charged with selling synthetic marijuana, a class 6 felony, and maintaining a public nuisance, a misdemeanor. They worked at the Valero gas station at 3523 Boulevard in Colonial Heights.
When police raided the business, they seized about $24,000 in cash.
According to court documents, one sealed plastic bag with AK-47 Acid Rain was analyzed by the state Department of Forensic Services on March 21. It contained 5.044 grams of plant material containing an illegal synthetic cannabinoid.
When it came time for trial June 25, the defendants met with a prosecutor in a side room in the courthouse for a few minutes. They appeared in court for about the same time.
In a deal with prosecutors, the criminal charges in Circuit Court were nolle prosequi, or set aside, and the defendants agreed to forfeit $15,000 of the money to the commonwealth.
Their defense attorney declined to comment after the hearing.
Ankurkumar Patel, 26, of the 5900 block of Dunnshire Road, northern Chesterfield, an employee at Tobacco Zone was also indicted May 7. He was charged with three felony counts of selling synthetic marijuana and one count of maintaining a public nuisance.
When police raided the business, police say about 1,500 packets of spice were seized. In all there were 14 varieties, with brands made by Head Stash and AK-47.
Three were analyzed by the Department of Forensic Services and found to have illegal substances, according to court records. They were AK-47 After Dark, AK-47 Gold and AK-47 Grape Ape.
In Circuit Court on July 8, Patel pleaded guilty to one charge of selling synthetic marijuana after a deal with prosecutors. The deal approved by Judge Herbert Gill called for a five-year prison sentence with all of that time suspended. Patel must also pay $570 in court costs and his driver’s license was suspended for six months.
The court hearing laid out how the Colonial Heights Street Crimes Unit made the controlled buy from the Tobacco Zone store on March 23, three days after McDonnell signed the new law, which went into effect immediately.
Police gave an informant $15 to purchase drugs. Police used video surveillance to record the informant going in and out of the store. The informant came back with a package of AK-47 Gold and $4.50 in change.
When police raided the store, Patel was present and said they had been selling that product for about 10 days and discussed numbers. He said the store did about $2,500 to $3,400 in total weekly sales, with about 60 percent of that from synthetic marijuana.
His defense attorney said they had been selling similar material for months.
The defense attorney noted that Patel had cooperated with police, telling them he had more of the product at his home and turned it in. Patel said he has no intention of ever selling the substance again and he had no prior criminal history.
While Judge Gill agreed to the suspended sentence, he did take time to chastise the young man in court.
“You know what this drug and other drugs do to society... I would hope as a legitimate businessman that you would not come close to the line,” he said.
Colonial Heights Assistant Commonwealth’s Attorney Adam Lantz said other people were involved in selling the synthetic marijuana, but charges were only brought up against the three.
While the punishment in these two cases drew far less than the average for selling traditional drugs, they seem to mirror the few similar cases that have come up in the news lately in Virginia and across the nation, with either short incarcerations or none at all.
A Franklin County store owner got a suspended sentence after pleading guilty in July, according to the Roanoke Times.
According to a 2012 report by the Virginia Criminal Sentencing Commission, 64 percent of those convicted of selling typical Schedule I or II drugs, which includes marijuana, get prison time and 24 percent get jail time. The median sentence for distribution-related crimes was 2.3 years. But drug deals on the streets or through other underground avenues may have other crimes associated with them, be committed by repeat offenders or have a higher chance of violence.
Lantz said each case has to be weighed individually and that comparing these types of cases to typical drug cases is comparing “apples and oranges.”
“You really can’t compare the two,” he said.
“From how it comes into their possession to how they are sold” is completely different, Lantz said. He noted that they are businessmen who were doing something perfectly legal up until a few days before they were arrested.