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Baton Rouge shop owners raided, charged after overdose scare

A public outcry over crime can motivate law enforcement agencies and lawmakers to act swiftly. The quick response -- arrests and hurriedly signed bills -- satisfies the public need for action. On the other side of the story may be defendants, caught up in the zeal of a manhunt, suddenly facing allegations and possible serious consequences.

Two Baton Rouge men, the 40- and 47-year-old proprietors of a pair of city smoke shops, were arrested several days after police raided their stores. The raid closely followed a news conference, in which city officials warned about a local outbreak of synthetic marijuana overdoses. In a two-week period, area hospitals reported about 100 patients were treated for overdoses, possibly connected with artificial marijuana.

The raid on the defendants' smoke shops included eight eventual arrests and the seizure of over 26 pounds of man-made marijuana. The owners and four store employees were charged with possession of narcotics with intent to distribute. Two customers also were taken into custody and booked on lesser drug offenses; one customer was charged with resisting arrest.

The marijuana substitute appeals to customers who believe synthetic marijuana won't show up on drug tests. Purchases have been convenient through small shops and online sources. Substances often are sold as legitimate products with other purposes, like incense.

Reuters reported the overdose scare prompted Louisiana lawmakers to pass new legislation, outlawing eight compounds contained in current forms of synthetic marijuana. New laws soon have to replace old ones. The chemicals used to create "spice," as fake marijuana is sometimes called, change as state laws issue bans on particular compounds.

Compounds that were legal yesterday may not be legal today, making individuals suddenly vulnerable to serious drug charges. Knowledge about the legal status of synthetic marijuana shifts as laws do. A criminal defense attorney's job includes understanding the impact laws have on clients, no matter how rapidly legislation is enacted.

Source: The Advocate, "Owners of smoke shops, raided in crackdown on synthetic marijuana, arrested Tuesday" Ryan Broussard, Mar. 26, 2014

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