Lubbock’s first major synthetic cannabis trial began Monday with a 12-member jury selected in the 137th District Court.
On Tuesday, Anthony Carter, who has been held at the Lubbock County Detention Center since his May 8 arrest, pleaded not guilty to a first-degree felony count of possession with intent to deliver more than 400 grams of a synthetic cannabinoid containing the chemical compound fluoro-ADB. The charge carries a punishment of 10 years to life in prison.
However, the minimum sentence Carter, 50, faces is raised to 15 years because prosecutors allege he stored the drugs at his home, which they consider to be a drug-free zone because it was within 1,000 feet of Coronado High School.
Carter’s arrest was a result of an undercover operation by the Lubbock Police Department’s Homeless Outreach Team, who made covert purchases of the synthetic marijuana branded as “Chilly Willy” from Carter’s stores in January.
In May, the police officers obtained a warrant to search Carter’s stores and his home in the 4700 block of 29th Street where they seized “box after box” of the drugs, prosecutor Eddie Wharf told jurors in his opening statement.
“There was so much of these synthetic compounds, the lab didn’t even test it all,” he said. “The ones they did test had fluoro-ADB.”
He said the case against Carter was straightforward as the defendant knew the products he possessed and sold were illegal.
Carter’s attorney, Charles Chambers, told jurors prosecutors will be unable to prove that his client knew that his products were illegal. He said Carter had sent products, including “Chilly Willy,” to an independent toxicology laboratory that didn’t find any of the banned substances in them.
Evidence presented Tuesday included a letter issued in 2014 by the Lubbock County District Attorney’s Office warning smoke shop owners they could face criminal charges if they continued selling synthetic marijuana in Lubbock. Chambers said the letter does not specifically name the drugs or chemical compound his client is charged with possessing.
Police officers testified that Carter’s Tobacco Road stores were among the stores that were subjects of synthetic marijuana raids by Lubbock police and the district attorney’s office days after the letter was issued.
Synthetic marijuana is typically sold as potpourri or incense and labeled as not for human consumption. However, it is laced with chemicals designed to mimic the effects of illegal drugs when consumed. The health risks linked to the use of the substance include heart disease, seizures, suicidal thoughts and death.
In 2011, Texas legislators passed a law that targeted specific chemicals in synthetic cannabinoids, which prompted producers to switch the chemicals, effectively making the product legal.
Carter spoke to A-J media in 2012 for an article about city council members mulling a ban of the substance in the city. In that story he said customers who buy the products at his stores were responsible for how they use it.
“They’re clearly labeled ‘Not for human consumption’, ” he said. “I think if a person is 18 years of age or older and they choose to smoke it, they know the consequences of smoking it.”
However, in 2015, state legislators enacted a law banning chemical structures instead of individual chemicals. Fluoro-ADB is one of those chemicals. Prosecutors also presented evidence that indicated one of Carter’s stores sold more than $121,000 worth of synthetic cannabis in December 2016.
The trial continues Wednesday.