MURFREESBORO, DNJ, July 30, 2012 — Mywish Lalani admits selling synthetic drugs at Jefferson Pike Market in Walter Hill when she and her husband, Nick, owned the store. She also acknowledges selling the now illicit substances at 96 Quick Stop near Lascassas when they bought that store a year and a half ago. But all along she had an inkling it wasn’t quite right.
She kept it under the counter and sold it only to adults who asked for it, prohibiting sales to kids.
“I took it out when I found out it was illegal,” she said last week in an interview at the store along New Lascassas Highway and Compton Road. “If it’s wrong, it’s wrong.”
The Lalanis are well aware of what’s happening with stores across the county in regard to illicit synthetic drugs that create a high similar to marijuana or ecstasy, but which can also cause bizarre behavior and even brain damage.
“As I started hearing about it in the news, that’s when I took it out,” she said. “I wouldn’t want my kids doing it.”
Stores that were caught selling cannabinoids in Operation Synful Smoke last September had “massive quantities” and large displays in their stores, according to Lalani.
Sheriff’s Capt. Jason Mathis testified in a Rutherford County Beer Board meeting last week that he and his officers in the Special Enforcement Bureau went to stores across unincorporated areas in February 2011 and told clerks and owners that items such as Molly’s Plant Food were illegal and had to be removed. They also warned them that synthetic marijuana would be illegal as of July 1, 2011, and that they could run afoul of the law if they kept selling it.
A follow-up raid dubbed Operation Synful Smoke by federal, state and local law offices in September led to charges against about 40 individuals. Four of those went before the beer board this past Monday night at the Rutherford County Clerk’s Office where the board voted unanimously to suspend beer permits 30 days for three owners and 180 days for one owner.
Ju Sun Kim Beck, the owner of Family Market of 8050 Highway 99 in Rockvale, received a 30-day suspension on beer sales along with Kountry Korner Market, 7604 Old Nashville Highway, owner Mustafa Ghulamali, and Lascassas Market, 2712 Lascassas Pike, owner Siddharth Patel.
The harshest punishment was meted out to Fady Henin, owner of Wild Rockvale at 6125 Highway 99 in Rockvale. Officers testified he was marketing synthetic drugs by offering free pipes to anyone who bought two or more packets — even though they are clearly marked “Not for human consumption.”
Henin, who previously lost his beer permit for selling to an underage customer, complained that he would lose his business. “I will not stay in business 180 days without the beer,” he said.
But that didn’t win him any sympathy with the Beer Board. In fact, it might have been the nail in the coffin. The combination of selling to an underage customer, giving away pipes with the purchase of synthetics and an “attitude” got the attention of Beer Board member David Nipper, who recommended a six-month suspension.
Mathis told the board that Henin said to officers “he just sells it, he doesn’t care what they do with it.”
“If I know it’s illegal, I don’t sell it,” Henin told the board.
Apparently, he was ringing it up as incense.
“So you rang it up as incense, but you know it’s not incense?” Board Chairman Keith Bratcher asked him.
“Please be fair with me,” Henin responded.
“It’s your responsibility to know what you’re selling or not selling,” Bratcher said, “whether it’s illegal or legal.”
Henin complained that he sometimes gets confused about what he can and can’t sell.
“Do you get confused about the money?” board member Mike Avery asked him.
Nipper predicted, though, that Henin might sell his business to a family member who could come before the board in a month and request a beer permit, and the board wouldn’t be able to consider the suspension of Henin’s license.
Chairman Bratcher, a firefighter with Murfreesboro Fire & Rescue, said he sees the impact of synthetic drugs in his line of work as a first responder. As leader of the Beer Board, he can’t make businesses stop selling it, but he can take away their bread and butter, which is beer sales.
Bratcher said he plans to ask legislators next year to allow the beer board to suspend the beer permits of a store, basing it on the address, and not on just the owner.
“I’m not prejudiced,” Bratcher said, but he noted that “a lot of markets in the county are owned by Indians.” And even if the beer board suspends their permit for underage sales or illicit synthetic drug sales, they could easily sell the store to a relative or friend who could request a beer permit at the next month’s meeting and the recent offender could be listed as a partner.
“It has happened,” Bratcher said, calling it a “loophole” in the law.
Not all stores owned by people of Indian descent sell the illicit drugs.
WT’s Market of Rockvale has never sold illicit synthetic drugs, not when it was previously owned by Wendell Jones and now by Sam Patel, who bought the business about a year ago, said clerk Sheila Young.
The County Clerk’s Office conducts background checks on beer permit applicants through the sheriff’s office, and Bratcher said the board encourages store owners to do background checks on clerks as well.
The Lalanis, for instance, lost their beer permit at Jefferson Pike Market because a clerk sold alcohol to an underage customer.
She pointed out that the beer board has to take a hard line against underage sales and illicit drugs and can’t treat one store differently than another.
“They don’t cut people slack,” she said. “They can’t.”
Sheriff’s officers aren’t seeing the illicit drugs being openly sold in stores these days, Capt. Mathis said, even though sources tell him stores are still competing against each other by selling it from under the counter.
The latest law passed by the General Assembly makes it a crime to possess the substances regardless of whether there is intent to produce, manufacture, distribute, sell or offer them for sale.
Today, two or three homemade operations are keeping the supply chain going, he said.
Lalani, for one, isn’t going to put the stuff back in her store. Not only does she have children in elementary through high school, but she feels she is responsible for the other children in her community.