Deal made in spice cases
By Caitlin Davis, Senior Staff Writer
Feb 10, 2014, 12:58
HOPEWELL — Charges were dropped against several store workers accused of selling synthetic marijuana, also known as spice, in Hopewell General District Court on Monday morning.
Two businesses in Hopewell, Golden Express and Cigarette City, were the subject of the spice investigation. The drug, which is made from a variety of chemicals, is illegal but only if one of the chemicals found in the mixture is deemed illegal.
Virginia Code, Section 18.2-248.1:1 states it is illegal for a person to “knowingly or intentionally possess synthetic cannabinoids. Any person who violates this subsection is guilty of a Class 1 misdemeanor.”
The code also states “it is unlawful for any person to sell, give, distribute or possess with intent to sell, give or distribute synthetic cannabinoids. Any person who violates this subsection is guilty of a Class 6 felony.”
Last year, former Governor Bob McDonnell signed House Bill 1941. The bill added more chemicals to the list which are considered illegal and if found in compounds, such as spice, will be considered a synthetic cannabinoid.
In each case, a bag of “plant material,” 2.8 grams from Golden Express and 4 grams from Cigarette City, was seized and sent to a lab for testing.
Sohail Panjwani, 43, Imran Panjwani, 31, and Sulaiman Shaban Ali Panjwani, 41, all of Richmond and all working at the Golden Express in Hopewell, were charged with possessing synthetic marijuana, or spice. The three were arrested in September of last year and had been out on bail since that time.
In an agreement with prosecutors, and agreed upon by Judge Bruce Clark Jr., along with the three businessmen, all charges came back as nolle prosequi, meaning that the charges are set aside.
Hopewell Commonwealth’s Attorney Rick Newman said that in exchange for the ruling, each of the three had to sign an agreement with the courts.
The agreement states that the person will no longer stock, sell, give or distribute synthetic cannabinoids. In addition, each agreed to fully submit their business property, Golden Express, or any business “I now own or may own in Hopewell to search and seizure at any time of the day or night by any Hopewell law enforcement officer with or without a warrant for a period of three years.”
Though it was not a guilty plea, Newman was still pleased with the results, noting it is difficult to get a conviction for spice due to the way the statue in Virginia is written.
The goal for Newman was to clean up the spice in Hopewell.
“I couldn’t prove it,” Newman said of the charge. “The whole purpose is to get the crap out of here.”
Gayla Petery, 64, of Hopewell and owner of Cigarette City, was also in court on Monday morning for the same charge of possessing synthetic marijuana and her case also came back as nolle prosequi in exchange for signing the same agreement with the courts.
James Petery, 70, of Hopewell, was also facing the same charge as Gayla, but did not appear in court that morning. His attorney, Taylor Stone, said his client was facing health complications and could not appear before the judge, however it was stated James was to sign the same agreement.
Though there were not any convictions that came out of the cases on Monday, Newman said Hopewell has seen a conviction in regards to the selling and distribution of spice. Rushdi Mubarak, 39, of Colonial Heights, pleaded guilty Dec. 12 in Hopewell General District Court to a misdemeanor charge of possession of synthetic cannabinoid, also known as “spice.” He was arrested in September of last year for an offense in August of that same year at The Corner Store, located in the 2200 block of Atlantic Street.
He was sentenced to 30 days in jail with all 30 days suspended.
Mubarak will be on probation for three years and was ordered to pay $256 in fines and court costs.
Newman said he was pleased with the results in court on Monday. He said both businesses have cleared out their inventory and have agreed to not sell spice anymore. Should they be caught again, Newman said that will prove there was an intent to sell and they will be back in the courtroom.
As of January 16, soldiers at Fort Lee are banned from both Golden Express and Cigarette City. Both businesses remain on the list of local businesses in the Tri-Cities in which soldiers are banned from shopping.