Pubdate: Sun, 16 Jun 2013
Source: Day, The (New London,CT)
Copyright: 2013 The Day Publishing Co.
Author: Karen Florin


It's a new chapter in the War on Drugs.

Police, courts and the state forensic laboratory say they are dealing
with more cases involving synthetic cannabinoids and other designer
drugs since the Connecticut Department of Consumer Protection passed
regulations banning fake marijuana, bath salts and salvia last year.

The case of Souhail S. Elkhoury, owner of Corey's Petroleum
convenience stores in Groton and East Lyme, is one of the first
synthetic marijuana cases on the New London Superior Court's major
crime docket.

Paul J. Narducci, a senior state's attorney who has handled countless
drug cases over the years, said he would be meeting with Drug
Enforcement Administration and state Department of Consumer Protection
officials soon to bring himself "up to speed" on the new regulations
and the relatively new products.

In the Elkhoury case, Groton Town Police and the Naval Criminal
Investigative Service said they seized 102 packets of synthetic
marijuana from the Corey's food mart at 208 Route 12 in January after
an undercover patrolman made three controlled buys of products called
"Scooby Snax," "OMG" and "WTF."

Elkhoury, 57, of Greenville, R.I., who is also known as "Khoury" and
"Cory," was charged with three counts each of possession of a
controlled substance, accessory to sale of a controlled substance and
possession of a controlled substance with intent to sell. He was
charged also with money laundering, avoiding tax on the sale of
cigarettes and conspiracy to sell a controlled substance.

Convenience stores and smoke shops started selling packets of green,
leafy herbal products as a legal substitute for marijuana about 10
years ago, claiming they could produce the effects of marijuana
without the presence of its active ingredient, tetrahydrocannabinol

"The idea was, you didn't have to have marijuana to get a marijuana
high," according to Robert H. Powers, director of controlled
substances and toxicology at the Connecticut Forensic Laboratory.

But researchers discovered in 2008 that the chemical compounds added
to the dried leaves of legal herbs were related to marijuana. Powers
said the synthetic cannabinoid products likely are manufactured within
the United States.

The DEA has classified several of the cannabinoids, with names such as
JWH-018, JWH-073, JWH-081, as controlled substances, saying the
long-term physical and psychological effects of these substances are
unknown but potentially severe.

Connecticut last year joined 38 other states that had banned the

Authorities warn that use of the products can result in psychotic
behavior, especially among those with psychotic disorders.

Unlike marijuana, which has both stimulant and depressive effects, the
synthetic cannabinoids don't have the depressive, or calming effects,
so users can get an uncontrolled stimulant effect, according to Powers.

Manufacturers of synthetic marijuana have continued to tinker with the
products in an effort to make them legal.

"If one specific structure is made illegal, if I can change the
structure a little bit, I'm now selling my product legally," Powers
said. "Because our drug laws evolved out of pharmaceutical patent law,
we consider a very small change to the molecule to be a completely
different molecule. There are attempts being made to address that at
the state level."

Defense attorney Carmine J. Giuliano, who is representing Elkhoury and
other convenience store owners charged with selling synthetic
marijuana, said he would be consulting with toxicologists as the cases
move forward. He said he has just started to review the chemist
reports that the state's attorney's office provided with Elkhoury's
case file and it's not clear whether the products are illegal.

"It seems kind of weird, if all these places are selling the stuff,"
he said. "It's sort of like baseball players who are one step ahead of
the Major League with steroids. Figure out how to change the formula
and they pass the law."

Undercover operation in Groton

During the Elkhoury investigation, an undercover patrolman went to the
Groton store three times with a concealed listening device and
purchased packets of synthetic marijuana with recorded bills,
according to an arrest warrant affidavit in the case.

During the first visit, the officer purchased a glass smoking pipe, or
"bowl," before asking the clerk if he had any "Scooby Snax." After he
assured the convenience store clerk that he was a member of the U.S.
Navy, not a police officer, the store clerk reached below the counter
to retrieve a packet of "OMG" synthetic marijuana, handed it to the
officer, and quietly told him to put it in his pocket, according to
the affidavit.

Sailors from the nearby Submarine Base had been banned in 2011 from
Cory's and several other area stores that sold the designer drugs
after the Navy instituted a zero tolerance policy for synthetic
marijuana and other designer drugs.

The undercover police officer returned to the store two weeks later
and purchased rolling papers and a packet of "OMG," according to the
affidavit. The clerk rung up the sale on an older model
calculator-style register that doesn't record purchases.

By the third visit, the clerk recognized the undercover officer "as a
person interested in the purchase of synthetic cannabinoid products,"
according to the affidavit, and asked him whether he wanted big or
small packets of the product.

The same clerk, Majula Ranasinghe, was on duty during the raid and
told the police that employees kept the synthetic marijuana under the
counter and rang it up as nontaxable, according to the affidavit.
Ranasinghe said Elkhoury delivered the products to the store and, when
Ranasinghe questioned him about their legality, the owner told him not
to worry because they were not illegal. Ranasinghe said he sold 20 to
25 bags of synthetic marijuana per shift.

In addition to synthetic marijuana, police seized $24,522 in cash from
the store's cash registers and drop safe, 13 packs of cigarettes with
counterfeit Connecticut tax stamps and two cartons of cigars with no
tax stamps.

In conjunction with the Cory's investigation in Groton, East Lyme
police and state police searched the Cory's Food Mart at 265 Flanders
Road and spoke to the operators.

In March, the police in East Lyme raided another local convenience
store, Sergey's Smoke Shop at 170 Flanders Road, following a two-month
investigation. They said they seized 686 packets of synthetic
marijuana, which they said had a street value of $10,290, and
$1,254.62 in cash.

Resident State Trooper Sgt. Bill Blanchette said officers are
preparing an arrest warrant in that case and that police will be
watching for any other activity involving the substances.

"I'm hoping East Lyme is now a synthetic marijuana-free place,"
Blanchette said.

More charges filed

There have been a handful of arrests in the region related to
synthetic marijuana.

New London police raided the Sams Food/Ravi Petro convenience store at
290 Broad St. in February and said they seized about 500 packages of
"K2," another brand of synthetic marijuana.

They charged store clerk Sunny Singh, 26, of 150 Broad St., Apt. 2,
with operating a drug factory, possession of a dangerous weapon,
possession of a controlled substance, possession of a controlled
substance with intent to sell and possession of controlled substance
within 1,500 feet of a school.

In addition to seizing the drugs, police said they confiscated more
than $34,000 in cash, about 1,000 items of drug paraphernalia,
narcotics packaging materials, cutting agents, scales and concealment

Police said they also seized illegally copied DVD movies and illegal
weapons, including brass knuckles and switch blade knives.

Singh, who posted a $25,000 bond, is due in New London Superior Court
June 27.

State police said in February that they seized a large amount of K2
from the Best Way gas station in Jewett City. The store owners, Sam
Rita, 52, and Santosh Mahey, 46, both of Colchester, each were charged
with illegal possession of narcotics, tampering with evidence and
conspiracy to commit a crime. Their cases are pending in Superior
Court in Norwich.

In March, state police arrested Vipin S. Patel, 55, of 112 Brown Ave.,
Jewett City, in Brooklyn and located 21 pounds of synthetic marijuana
in his minivan with a street value of $16,000. His case is pending in
the Windham Judicial District.
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