On Thursday, Hall County drug enforcement officials made their first arrest of a local retailer illegally selling synthetic marijuana since Georgia banned all forms of the substance last March.
According to a press release from the Hall County’s Multi Agency Narcotics Squad, Vijaykumar Patel, 38, of Flowery Branch, was taken into custody after MANS agents, with the help of the Gainesville Police Department, executed a search warrant at Discount Tobacco Depot, located at 350 Shallowford Rd., Suite C.
Law enforcement seized 36 packages of the synthetic marijuana, labeled as “Scooby Snax,” worth between $20 and $40 each.
Patel was charged with possession of synthetic cannabinoids (synthetic marijuana) with the intent to distribute and booked into the Hall County Jail.
“This is the first case of distribution (in Hall County) that I am familiar with since the law was passed,” said Lt. Scott Ware, MANS unit commander. “As far as use, we don’t see a lot of it, but the fact that it’s scheduled, it’s obviously an important issue. I think this stuff is very dangerous — a lot more dangerous that regular marijuana.”
Last March, Georgia passed Chase’s Law, in memory of Chase Burnett, a 16-year-old from Fayette County who drowned in a hot tub after smoking the drug commonly referred to “spice.”
The law outlaws all forms of the drug that has seen a rampant increase in usage, especially among young people.
In June 2012, the Georgia State Board of Pharmacy, per the request of Gov. Nathan Deal, adopted an emergency rule classifying newly discovered compounds of synthetic cannabinoids as Schedule I substances.
Patel’s arrest was the first for the MANS unit, but last September the Flowery Branch Police Department arrested Mazhir Ali Siddiqui following a five-month investigation into the distribution of the drug at Best Buy Quality Food on Atlanta Highway.
Ware said the drug has been on law enforcement’s radar since the state passed the legislation. But, on the surface, the stores have been compliant.
“We’ve never not looked at it,” Ware said. “We have to receive specific information. All the stores, on their face, have been compliant. So, how are we to know without getting information that stuff was being sold? That’s not to say there aren’t other businesses that are doing this.”
Ware said his unit received information about synthetic marijuana being sold behind the counter at Discount Tobacco Depot and subsequently opened an investigation.
Agents also confiscated “numerous smoking devices, packaging materials, digital and mechanical scales, false bottom cans ... and detox agents” from the store.
“In and of itself, those items are not illegal,” Ware said. “However, in the scope of our investigation, in my opinion, those are items that are used to ingest illegal drugs, weigh drugs, package drugs for resale.”
Patel’s first appearance in court was Friday, but the district attorney’s office did not return phone messages as of press time.
“I would hope it would send a message to store owners that if they’re willing to take a risk, than we’ll certainly do our best to arrest them, seize their product and send them to jail,” Ware said.