Steven Arnold Cooper pleaded guilty to distributing the material.
Thursday, July 11, 2013
A Franklin County store owner who pleaded guilty Wednesday to two drug-related felonies will not have to serve jail time but will still be subject to searches and other penalties.
Steven Arnold Cooper, 45, who operates Misty Mountain Wares , was indicted in January on seven offenses: three felony counts of distributing synthetic cannabinoids or synthetic marijuana, three felony counts of distributing those materials within 1,000 yards of a school, and a misdemeanor charge of possessing drug paraphernalia with the intent to sell it.
The bulk of those offenses were dismissed at a hearing Wednesday in Franklin Count Circuit Court after Cooper pleaded guilty to two felony counts of selling synthetic marijuana, an offense that carries a maximum penalty of five years in prison.
As part of Cooper’s plea agreement, Judge William Alexander gave him 24 months in suspended time. Cooper will have to pay $2,000 in fines, plus court costs, and will be required to complete the Virginia Alcohol Safety Action Program. His driver’s license will be restricted for one year.
Alexander also took up the prosecutor’s suggestion that Cooper’s store — which had been located in the Eagle Plaza shopping center on Tanyard Road near Franklin County High School, but has since relocated outside Rocky Mount’s town limits — be subject to searches in the future.
Citing Cooper’s lack of prior criminal record, Alexander did not put Cooper on probation but ordered him to be on good behavior for three years.
Synthetic marijuana was outlawed in the state July 1, 2012, and Cooper’s lawyer, William Davis, told the court that Cooper bought and began selling the products prior to that.
Assistant Commonwealth’s Attorney Dwight Rudd said in his summary of evidence that a confidential informant, acting on police orders, went to the store on Sept. 19 and bought synthetic cannabinoids that were advertised under the brand name “Bizarro.”
The next day, Rocky Mount police raided the store and seized about 100 smoking devices, as well as dozens of packages of substances that upon testing proved to be synthetic marijuana, investigators said.
Rudd said afterward that the term “synthetic marijuana” isn’t entirely accurate and that synthetic cannabinoids only simulate a few of the effects of actual marijuana.
He said they can also induce seizures, agitation, extreme paranoia, and visual and auditory hallucinations.
Although substances of that type became popular topics of debate and controversy last year, particularly as “bath salts” or synthetic cathinone gained public awareness, Rudd said Cooper’s is the only synthetic drug case he’s aware of in his jurisdiction.
“This is the only one I’ve ever seen in Franklin County,” he said. “This is just a rare bird.”