Friday, April 13, 2012

TOP STORY >> Fourth arrest in ‘pot-pourri’ case

Leader staff writer

One more business owner has been arrested after raids last week on tobacco stores in Cabot, Austin and Ward were said to be selling synthetic marijuana and paraphernalia and at least one more arrest warrant is in the works.

But whether the state law passed in 2011 that included synthetic marijuana on the list of Schedule 6 drugs actually made the substance illegal as it intended has not yet been tested in court.

“I think we all know what the stuff is,” Lonoke County Prosecutor Chuck Graham said about the arrests and the official charges he will make against the business owners and possibly the store clerks. “We’ve just got to let the system work a little bit. The law is so new.”

“We’ve made the arrests. We’ll make the appropriate charges. We’ll react to whatever claims they make, but to us the law is clear,” he said.

Joseph Alford, owner of the Alford Tobacco Store in Cabot, was arrested for “possession of a Schedule 6 controlled substance with purpose to deliver,” Graham said.

That arrest was preceded by the arrest of three owners of Rock’s Smoke-N-Bait in Ward: Beth Glover, her son Jeremy Reed and his wife Stephanie Reed. Jeremy Reed is a firefighter for North Little Rock and former member of the Austin City Council. Glover, the chief clerk for the district court in Ward under District Judge Joe O’Bryan, is still on the job.

Graham said the Arkansas state police, which served the search warrant on the Austin business Up in Smoke, has not completed the arrest warrant for Doug Wilson, but he expects it soon.

So far all the business owners have turned themselves in when the warrants for their arrests were completed. Graham expects Wilson to do the same.

Synthetic marijuana has been on the market for about six years and attempts to ban it started when the potentially harmful effects become known. Although long-term effects are not known, local law enforcement reports seizures associated with the various products for sale.

Cabot Police Chief Jackie Davis said this week that he knows a man who has smoked pot for decades who says Diablo, a synthetic form of his favorite drug, is highly addictive, but too expensive for him to buy as often as he needs it.

The packets cost $20 to $50 each. The store in Ward reportedly made $12 million a year in sales.

Diablo was also the brand that a Cabot-area woman said almost killed her son in late December. She found him unconscious after smoking the drug just once. After he had been stabilized at Arkansas Children’s Hospital, the mother called state Sen. Eddie Joe Williams who asked the State Police for help.

Williams said he believes stronger legislation is needed to control the sale of synthetic drugs.

But for now, Graham says he will use the one he has. Act 751 of 2011 added synthetic marijuana to the list of illegal drugs.

Although the formulas for making the drug in its various forms keeps changing, Graham said state law says if a drug is similar in chemical structure to marijuana, it is marijuana and therefore illegal.

The law was passed March 28, 2011, and included an emergency clause that made it affective immediately and also explained the intent: It is found and determined by the General Assembly of the state of Arkansas that new substances that need immediate scheduling are becoming more prevalent; and that this act is immediately necessary because these new substances pose a risk to the public.