State's synthetic marijuana law still evolving

The prosecution of synthetic marijuana cases, a relatively new crime on state court dockets, is still evolving, largely because of inconsistencies in the drug's chemical makeup.

On Monday in New London Superior Court, a store clerk charged last year with selling synthetic marijuana from Sergey's Smoke & Nautical Gift Shop in East Lyme received a suspended prison sentence and three years of probation. Florin Muradian, 52, of Westfield, Mass., pleaded guilty in the court to possession of a controlled substance. The state decided not to prosecute Angelika Tsoy, another clerk at Sergey's who had been charged after police seized 677 packages of synthetic marijuana.

The state forensic laboratory tested the product and found it contained a compound that was not specifically listed in state law as a controlled substance, according to Senior Assistant Prosecutor Paul J. Narducci.

"The toxicologist said it was an analogue, with the same effect as the controlled substance," he said.

These so-called designer drugs, sold as "spice," "K2" and other names, are made by spraying the dried leaves of legal herbs with various synthetic compounds. Police, courts and the state forensic laboratory seen the number of cases involving synthetic cannabinoids rise since the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration listed them as controlled substances in 2012. That same year, the state Department of Consumer Protection passed regulations banning fake marijuana, bath salts and salvia.

Authorities say the long-term physical and psychological effects of these substances are unknown but potentially severe.

In the same New London courtroom Monday, Narducci told Judge Hillary B. Strackbein that he would not be prosecuting Daniel and Cain Defreese, brothers in their early 20s who each were charged with multiple crimes after local, state and federal authorities raided their home at 59 Coit St., Apt. 2, New London in October. Authorities seized more than a pound of a "green/brown plant like substance," which they suspected was synthetic marijuana.

"The substance seized was sent to the lab and there were no cannabinoids or chemical compounds in the material seized," Narducci said.

Defense attorney Anthony R. Basilica, who represented Daniel Defreese, said his client insisted from the beginning that the product was an herbal supplement he had purchased from a "Dr. Bob" in Occum.

"He insisted it wasn't synthetic marijuana, and when they tested it, it wasn't," Basilica said. "It was an herb."

Basilica said he learned a lot about synthetic marijuana after the new laws went into effect.

"It's a lot more complicated than everybody thinks," he said. "The compounds that make up synthetic marijuana change from time to time."

Sunny Singh, a 27-year-old store clerk who was arrested after the New London Police raided the Sam's Food/Ravi Petro convenience store at 290 Broad St. in February 2013, last week was granted a diversionary program that would result in a dismissal of the charges if he completes drug education classes and stays out of trouble.

His attorney, Carmine J. Giuliano, said he would argue in court next week for the state to return to the store owner the $36,000 that police seized during a raid.

Giuliano also is representing Souhail S. Elkhoury, owner of Corey's Petroleum convenience stores in Groton and East Lyme. Groton Town Police and the Naval Criminal Investigative Service seized 102 packets of "Scooby Snax," "OMG" and "WTF" from the store on Route 12 in Groton after an undercover patrolman made three controlled buys there.

Giuliano said Elkhoury had a letter from the chemist that sold him the products that indicated there were no illegal ingredients in them. The state contends the products contained illegal substances, Giuliano said, and he and his client are deciding whether to take the case to trial or accept a plea deal. Elkhoury, who is 58, has no criminal record and has applied for the drug education program, according to Giuliano.

The $24,000 that authorities seized in the Corey's raid is also an issue in the case, Giuliano said.

"It comes down to real life, real money," he said.

k.florin@theday.com

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