Last week in federal court, the mastermind behind one of the country's largest synthetic drug production outfits ended what could have been a bruising legal drama by pleading guilty.
Dyan Harrison was the top guy behind Mr. Nice Guy, a synthetic-weed brand on the kush-end of the scale in terms of popularity and potency. As we recounted in a recent cover story, Harrison and other cohorts were pumping out large quantities of Mr. Nice Guy from a nondescript industrial area in West Palm Beach. The feds rounded up the Nice Guys as part of "Operation Log Jam," a full-force national takedown of the fake-weed industry.
Harrison was facing a hefty lineup of charges after his July arrest, including unlawful distribution of controlled substance analogs (more on that later). As part of his plea deal, he'll forfeit $2 million in assets and possibly do up to five years in jail.
"Under the circumstances, we thought it was a very good solution for our clients," Ian Goldstein, Harrison's lawyer, told New Times this week.
Although this closes the door on the Nice Guy case, you can use the deal as a barometer for synthetic-drug prosecutions statewide -- and the truth is that thanks to some open legal issues, no one really knows what the hell is going on.
A lot of the confusion is due to a current court decision set to come out of the middle district of Florida. There, attorneys for Ilan Fedida are challenging the government's use of the Federal Analog Act, the backbone of Operation Log Jam.
The act was written in the mid-80s, a lot of experts say the analog argument is too vague about what substances share the same pharmacological DNA as illegal ones.
In December, a court in Tampa heard three-days of testimony from experts poking a hole in the act. Interestingly, during the hearing, Florida AG Pam Bondi issued an emergency order banning 22 synthetic substances. Some legal pros watching from the sidelines say the move might signal the state doesn't think the analog act will still be on its feet after the Tampa court rules -- that is, by dropping the emergency order, it suggests that these substances weren't illegal before said order.
"Some of the jurisdictions in Florida have been dumping cases," says Thomas Wright, a Boca Raton attorney who follows synthetic cases. "In other words, you have prosecutors that have cases, and as soon as she issued this emergency order, they say we're not going to prosecute."
A ruling on the analog argument is set to come out sometime this month. Now, if it goes down, prosecutors will probably still find other charges to roll out against synthetic manufacturers. That's what was in play in with the Mr. Nice Guy case. But at this moment, there's still a lot of uncertainty on both sides of the courtroom when it comes to synthetic drugs and possible punishments.
"The case presented a lot of unique issues that no one has really dealt with before," says Harrison's attorney Goldstein. "If someone gets caught with ten kilos of cocaine, it is what it is."
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