The Norman Transcript

July 19, 2013

Synthetic marijuana charges dropped after testimony falls flat

By Jessica Bruha
The Norman Transcript

NORMAN — Felony charges against a Norman couple for intent to distribute synthetic marijuana were dropped after a crucial testimony fell through last month.

Christie and Dennis England were charged in Cleveland County District Court with possession of controlled dangerous substances with intent to distribute within 2,000 feet of a park in March. Those charges were dismissed last month after prosecutors were unable to get a much-needed testimony from an Oklahoma State Bureau of Investigation chemist at a preliminary hearing.

District Attorney Greg Mashburn said Thursday it was hard for the OSBI lab to testify that the chemical makeup of the substances confiscated from the England’s aromatherapy shop was similar to the chemical makeup to substances on Oklahoma’s banned substance list.

However, they are working on it. The DA’s office is currently working with a professor at the University of Oklahoma, who is an organic chemist, to help with the similar cases in the future.

“There’s still a chance we could get that case back on track once we’re able to elicit that testimony. And in future cases it will help,” Mashburn said.

The probable cause affidavit filed with the England’s charges said when an undercover police officer made a controlled purchase at the aromatherapy shop, the substance was sent to the OSBI lab to be tested. OSBI reported that the items bought contained a chemical substance known as XLR-11, which was obtained through instrumental analysis, but had not been confirmed by OSBI.

A detective who spoke to an OSBI chemist said the chemist advised Norman police that XLR-11 was supposed to be placed on the controlled list in Oklahoma in November.

After an alleged overdose by a high school student in March, police seized 190 packages from the aromatherapy shop. Patrol officers also encountered three people in possession of the substance that they admitted buying from the business with the intentions of getting high, according to a probable cause affidavit.

Police said the substances have a similar effect to marijuana when smoked and although they are sold as herbal incense or potpourri, undercover officers paid $10 per gram for the products.

Investigators also indicated that the synthetic substances can be from 10 to 800 times stronger than naturally occurring THC, which is the psychoactive ingredient in marijuana.

During an interview with Dennis England, police told him the products sold as potpourri or herbal incense in the store were illegal and people were smoking it and getting high, the affidavit said.

England said he knew people talked about it and smoked it and likened it to somebody buying glue and sniffing it to get high. He even questioned investigators why they did not go after the stores that sold glue, the document states.

Jessica Bruha