Synthetic pot cases vs. NB tobacco shop owners dismissed

The synthetic marijuana cases brought against the two brothers who run the King Tobacco store in North Branch have been dismissed.

Binh Van Do, 51, of Little Falls, and Tin Trong Do, 38, of St. Cloud, each were charged with two counts of felony sale of synthetic cannabinoids and one count of misdemeanor possession of the substance following a search warrant that was executed at the business in June 2013.

The Chisago County Attorney’s Office charged the cases, alleging one of the substances involved in the product was illegal under state statute.

However, the Attorney’s Office was informed a chemical analyst could not be located to testify the exact substance was illegal at the time it was possessed by the defendants in June, Chisago County Attorney Janet Reiter explained.

With no expert testimony, the cases were dismissed.

“Unfortunately, these cases are examples of the difficulties presented in staying ahead of these ‘designer’ synthetic drugs and those who wish to profit by putting these dangerous substances on the market for our young people to access,” Reiter noted.

The Minnesota Legislature had amended the controlled substance statutes to include the precise molecular substance that was seized in June and the subject of the criminal complaints filed in July. The statute that now prohibits the possession of “XLR-11” went into effect Aug. 1, 2013, Reiter said.

According to the criminal complaints:

In May, the East Central Drug and Violent Offenders Task Force received information that King Tobacco, 6063 Main St., Suite D, was selling synthetic marijuana. An agent, acting undercover, conducted a controlled buy and spoke with a store clerk May 17.

The agent asked to buy “Volcano,” a known trade name for a type of synthetic marijuana, and the clerk went to the main counter area where the substance was displayed. The agent then purchased 3 grams of Volcano for $37.38, using money that had been previously recorded by the task force.

After the substance was sent to the Wisconsin Department of Justice State Crime Lab for analysis, the lab indicated the Volcano contained the presence of a controlled substance under Minnesota statute. An agent with the task force conducted another controlled buy at the North Branch store June 14.

Later that day, task force members executed a search warrant at King Tobacco, where the store clerk informed an agent that she was aware the store sold Volcano and Liberty, which is another form of synthetic marijuana. The clerk said she had tried the substance several months ago, and “the chemical high made her want to hide in a corner and put her in a paranoid state.”

In addition, the clerk said she did not know how the product arrived at the store, as she had never seen it come with freight shipments of other tobacco products. But the synthetic marijuana was just there sometimes for her to stock, the clerk said, noting she had sold about $1,279 worth of Volcano and Liberty that day.

Also during the search warrant, store manager Binh Van Do arrived on scene stating his brother, store owner Tin Trong Do, ordered the synthetic products for their other stores in Detroit Lakes and Alexandria. Binh Do said he was responsible for the stock at the North Branch store, and he orders Volcano and Liberty online. The product comes to the store through the U.S. mail.

Binh Do stated he had legal paperwork indicating the synthetic he was purchasing was a legal substance. He provided a letter from a lab in Virginia saying Volcano was found not to contain the particular classes of synthetic cannabinoids that are considered illegal by Minnesota law.

Tin Trong Do arrived at the store next, also during the search, and declined to give a detailed statement. But he did say that he will stop selling the synthetic items and paraphernalia as soon as the city creates an ordinance prohibiting it.

During the search, law enforcement officers seized more than 250 single and 3-gram packets of the synthetic product, totaling 446 grams (15.7 ounces or just short of a pound) with a retail value of more than $6,400. Agents also seized more than $8,000 in cash. No arrests were immediately made.

Officers with North Branch Police and deputies of the East Central Drug and Violent Offender Task Force served the search warrant as part of an investigation into allegations that King Tobacco was selling synthetic cannabinoids, an illegal substance that is also known as synthetic marijuana.

Synthetic marijuana is defined by Minnesota state statute and is illegal to possess or sell. It’s produced by spraying natural herbs with synthetic compounds that, when consumed, mimic the effects of marijuana. These products contain toxic chemicals and can produce psychotic episodes in users.

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