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The Franklin News-Post
P. O. Box 250
310 Main Street, SW
Rocky Mount, Virginia 24151
Fax: 540-483-8013

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Local man indicted in synthetic marijuana case
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File Photo by Charles Boothe: The Rocky Mount Police Department executed a search warrant on Misty Mountain Wares in September. The search and investigation have resulted in seven indictments related to synthetic marijuana.

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

By CHARLES BOOTHE - Staff Writer

A local businessman has been indicted on six felony charges in connection with the sell, possession and distribution of synthetic marijuana.

The charges stem from a Sept. 21, 2012, raid by the Rocky Mount Police Department on Misty Mountain Wares in Eagle Plaza on Tanyard Road in Rocky Mount.

Steven Arnold Cooper, who operated the business, was indicted by a Franklin County grand jury Monday on three felony counts related to possessing, selling or distributing synthetic cannabinoids within 1,000 feet of school property.

Three other felony indictments were related to selling, distributing or possessing with the intent to distribute synthetic cannabinoids.

Another indictment on a misdemeanor charge was related to possessing drug paraphernalia with the intent to sell.

The charges date between Aug. 27 and Sept. 20, 2012.

An indictment is not a finding of guilt, but it is a determination by jurors that enough evidence exists to hold a trial.

RMPD Chief David Cundiff said in September that his department had been "conducting an intense investigation of this business," which is located within 1,000 feet of Franklin County High School.

The search conducted by RMPD was related to the sell and distribution of synthetic drugs, Cundiff said, often packaged as other products.

The Virginia General Assembly made changes to the laws regarding synthetic drugs that make it easier for law enforcement to prosecute cases, Cundiff said. Those changes became effective July 1, 2012.

Cundiff said the investigation was prompted by complaints from the general public and undercover officers had been used.

Synthetic marijuana has been a growing problem in recent years since it has been added to products that are sold legally.

A forum on the dangers of the drug was held in Rocky Mount in June 2012.

At that forum, Dr. John Burton, chief of the department of emergency medicine for Carilion Clinic, said synthetic marijuana, called K-2 or Spice, is usually included in incense and sold as a legal product, often in tobacco shops.

The effects are supposed to mimic marijuana, but they are often far different, Burton said. Side effects of the drug can include seizures, psychosis, rapid heart beat and odd behavior.

"It's a very dangerous, addictive high ... Dependency is substantial," he said.

Burton said a "bad clinical outcome can come quickly" and he has seen patients who have reacted to the drug by becoming comatose.

Users, who are often very young, smoke, snort or shoot the drug, and the variability of the purity of the product is one of the reasons the associated highs are "all over the map," he said.

The drug is obtained legally because laws have been skirted, he said.

Another forum panel member, Tim Allen, Franklin County's Commonwealth's Attorney, said that states have tried to combat the drug by making the compounds used illegal, but the manufacturers keep changing the compound.

"This stuff doesn't stay the same," he said.

Allen said the Virginia legislature introduced several bills to tackle the problem and eventually approved a new law that is "all-encompassing" and went into effect on July 1, 2012.

Punishments have also been enhanced, Allen said.

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