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Dave Roepke, Published July 14 2011

Charges against Moorhead smoke shop to be filed next week at earliest

MOORHEAD – Officers here seized 2,000 bags of alleged synthetic marijuana – the once-legal “herbal incense” outlawed two weeks ago by a new Minnesota law – in a bust at a downtown smoke shop Wednesday night.

Yassin Wazwaz, owner of Pyromaniacs Smoke Shop, is accused of selling synthetic marijuana, said Lt. Brad Penas, Moorhead police investigations commander.

The gross misdemeanor charges aren’t likely to be filed until next week at the earliest, Penas said.

“We have a lot of work to do on it yet,” he said.

Police executed a search warrant at Pyromaniacs at about 10 p.m. Wednesday in a raid that lasted about two hours. In addition to the bags of alleged synthetic pot, financial records and cash were confiscated from the store, Penas said.

Penas said Wazwaz told police he though the seized product – sold under the brand name Kryptonite in a variety of flavors such as “berry blue” or “pineapple” – was legal. The store was openly selling Kryptonite.

A phone message left for Wazwaz wasn’t immediately returned this morning. Wazwaz also owns a tobacco shop in Fargo, and he told The Forum last year his family owns about 30 tobacco stores across the state of Minnesota.

During the 2011 Minnesota Legislative session, lawmakers passed a bill banning possession and sale of synthetic marijuana effective July 1. An attempt by smoke-shop owners to get a court order halting enforcement of the law, an effort joined by the owner of Discontent in Moorhead, failed June 30 though they continue to challenge the law as overly broad.

Penas said police visited five Moorhead businesses July 1 to talk about the new law and give them a letter outlining it. He said each of the stores was in compliance at the time, and none were displaying synthetic marijuana for sale.

In an undercover operation the following week, Kryptonite was bought at Pyromaniacs and sent to state labs by Moorhead police for testing. The sample sent to the Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension lab for analysis was returned Wednesday, showing the item tested positive for a banned substance.

Penas declined to say if similar follow-up checks were done at any of the other four stores that had been selling newly banned products before July 1.

He also wouldn’t say if the product confiscated contained one of the named substances outlawed in the new ban, or if it’s suspected it falls under the “analog” portion of the law extending the ban to substances that have similar chemical structures or produce the same effects as illegal ones.

“They put whatever they want on the package,” Penas said.

The “analog” element of the law aims to prevent the makers of designer drugs from skirting the ban with slight alterations of their products.

Synthetic marijuana has been illegal in North Dakota since last fall.

Before it was outlawed in Minnesota, products possibly covered by the ban had become a sizable portion of smoke shops’ business. In a court filing in the challenge to the ban, the owner of Discontent, for instance, said synthetic marijuana not specifically listed in the prohibitions was about 60 percent of his business.