Business owner pleads guilty to selling synthetic marijuana

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COLUMBIA - A Columbia business owner pleaded guilty in federal court Tuesday to distributing synthetic marijuana, according to a state prosecutor.

Rafiqul Islam Khan, 62, pleaded guilty to participating in a conspiracy to violate the Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act by trafficking in misbranded drugs.

The prosecutor said Khan was the owner of Mari's Gas Station on Prathersville Road.

Khan was seen watering his flowers at the station Tuesday afternoon after admitting that he purchased synthetic marijuana from a co-conspirator and distributed synthetic marijuana at his business.

Khan refused to go on camera, but he told KOMU 8 News he was cheated by false lab reports, which said what he called "incenses" were made from legal chemicals.

He referred to the synthetic marijuana products as "incense," “herbal incense,” “potpourri,” “therapeutic potpourri,” and other false names, according to the prosecutor. The names indicated they were not for human consumption, the prosecutor said.

The synthetic products were actually intended for consumption to get a "high" and they did not have a label containing the name and place of the business, manufacturer, packer or distributor, according to the prosecutor. 

Khan said he hasn't seen any impact on his business because of the case.

Customers kept coming and going at the gas station as usual on Tuesday, and some of them told KOMU 8 News that they are aware of the case.

Kimberly Lockwood, who is a regular customer at Mari's, said it won't affect her decision to go to Mari's.

"I know a lot of stores selling synthetic things. So it doesn't really bother me," Lockwood said.

JD Franklin , who runs a gym close to Mari's, said he went to the gas station plenty of times before.

I think it's too bad. It's unfortunate for individuals to have to see something like that to happen here and hear about it as well. Him as a business owner, I just really believe that it's sending mixed signals to people in this area," Franklin said.

He said the store is convenient for many customers.

"It won't affect us by any means. I don't think it's gonna affect any businesses in this area. But really it's too bad," Franklin said.

Boone County Sheriff's deputies carried out a search warrant at Mari's on June 25, 2012. They took numerous packages of synthetic marijuana, totaling more than 16 kilograms. 

The prosecutor said Khan admitted he sold and purchased for sale, in aggregate, at least 30 kilograms of synthetic marijuana. He is subject to a sentence of up to five years in federal prison without parole. 

Under federal statutes, Khan is subject to a sentence of up to five years in federal prison without parole.