Pinellas County Sheriff’s Narcotics detectives arrest three March 25 after serving a search warrant at the High Point Food Mart in Clearwater.
CLEARWATER – The owner of a local food mart, an employee and a customer were arrested March 25 after narcotics detectives found synthetic cannabinoids while serving a search warrant.
According to a report from the Pinellas County Sheriff’s Office, an investigation revealed multiple violations of the sale of synthetic cannabinoids. The search warrant was executed at the High Point Food Mart located at 6201 150th Ave. N. in Clearwater about 10:55 a.m.
Storeowner Nageswara Rao Chapalamadugu, 54, was arrested and charged with two counts of sale and possession of a controlled substance. Edward Earl Watkins, a store clerk, from Bradenton also was charged with two counts of sale and possession of a controlled substance. A customer, Kenneth Gene Clark, 50, of Clearwater, who had just purchased a package of the synthetic cannabinoids, was charged with possession of a controlled substance.
In July 2012, Pinellas County Sheriff’s Office began a campaign to notify various food marts, gas stations and retail establishments, warning them that it is illegal to sell or possess synthetic marijuana. Deputies have delivered about 634 pre-written letters into storeowners and clerks, warning them about the risks of synthetic marijuana, commonly referred to as spice or K2. The letter informed them that it is a third degree felony to possess or sell the product.
Many storeowners voluntarily removed the products from their shelves. Others did not.
“If people do not want to do it voluntarily, we will serve search warrants and people will go to jail,” said Sheriff Bob Gualtieri.
According to narcotics detectives, the High Point Food Mart received eight warning letters to stop the sale of synthetic cannabinoids. Between the Jan. 29 and March 16, the store sold synthetic cannabinoids four times to undercover detectives and the products tested positive for the controlled substances JWH-11, XLR11, UR144 and AB Pinacca.
An undercover detective made another purchase of the product before the search warrant was served on March 25.
Detectives said the products were hidden out of the public view, behind the counter and under the pizza warmer. Some of the spice sold had cartoon characters on the product packaging and appeared to be marketed to children. High Point Elementary school is less than 1 mile from High Point Food Mart. During the sale of the synthetic cannabinoids, the products were sold as a grocery items and were taxed. At times, customers paid for the product using EBT cards, which are used by Food Stamp recipients and others on government assistance.