Authorities on Thursday executed two dozen search warrants across nine Southwest Virginia counties as part of “an extensive, ongoing criminal investigation into allegations of money laundering and illegal narcotic distribution network by retail establishments.”
The businesses are located in Lee, Montgomery, Pulaski, Roanoke, Scott, Smyth, Tazewell, Washington and Wythe counties, according to a statement from Virginia State Police that did not name them.
In its own news release, the Washington County Sheriff’s Office said warrants in Washington County were executed at a Zarati Shop on Lee Highway in Abingdon, another Zarati Shop in Damascus, Grounded LLC on West Main Street in Abingdon and The Good Vibes Shop on Cook Street in Abingdon.
The sheriff’s office said search warrants were executed at “businesses, financial institutions, and residences.”
“I am proud that my office has been able to assist deputies and attorneys in enforcing the law today. Too many stores are selling THC products, often marketed for children, in clear violation of the law,” Virginia Attorney General Jason Miyares said in a statement to Cardinal News, referring to tetrahydrocannabinol, the main component of cannabis that affects a person’s mental state.
“These items should not be sold anywhere in this Commonwealth, and I’m grateful to the men and women in uniform who executed these search warrants.”
State police said no arrests were made Thursday as a result of the search warrants, and the investigation is continuing.
The Facebook page for the Zarati Shop in Abingdon says it offers “indoor growing supplies and consultations.” The website for Grounded LLC says it offers “a broad array of cannabis oils geared to address illnesses and injuries” including cancer, seizures and chronic pain, while the Facebook page for The Good Vibes Shop describes it as a “private growing community.”
According to an employee of the circuit court clerk’s office in Abingdon, search warrant affidavits have been filed in the case but have been sealed for 180 days. The returns, which list anything that was seized, also will be sealed. Spot checks Thursday of the circuit courts in Montgomery County and Radford also didn’t turn up any publicly available search warrants related to this case.
Besides state police and Miyares’ office, the operation involved 29 local law enforcement agencies, the United States Postal Inspection Service, the federal Drug Enforcement Administration and the offices of prosecutors from the nine counties.
Reached Thursday, state Sen. Travis Hackworth, R-Tazewell County, said he was unfamiliar with the police operation but added, “This doesn’t surprise me.”
“We want this done within the compound of the law, and if there is illegal activity, it needs to be prosecuted,” Hackworth said.
Amid confusion over Virginia’s marijuana laws, cannabis-related retail stores have been popping up around the commonwealth.
Virginia allows adults 21 and older to possess small amounts of marijuana for personal use, and permits home growing of up to four plants per household.
But with no legal retail market outside of the medical industry, some shops have begun “gifting” marijuana to customers who buy other products. Miyares recently issued an opinion that such gifting is illegal.
Among the stores that saw police activity Thursday afternoon was the Zarati Shop in the Hollins area of Roanoke County, which had a “closed” sign posted.
A Roanoke County police officer came to the door and said the business was closed. Asked what was going on, he replied: “Police investigation.” All questions were referred to state police.
Soon after the shop opened in July, a Cardinal News staffer visited and was told it was an “agricultural grow” store. Inside were T-shirts, stickers and some gardening supplies. Behind the counter was a blackboard describing “Kelso’s Cut” and “Premium.” A flier described it as an “adult share” store, and clerks also sometimes stood outside the store waving signs that advertised “free pre-roll.”
When the staffer returned and bought a pair of pruning shears for $15, he was given a plastic baggie containing what appeared to be a hand-rolled cigarette with green vegetative matter. Cardinal sent the baggie and its contents to a lab, and preliminary tests confirmed the presence of Delta 9, the intoxicating component of cannabis. Further tests are underway.
Following Thursday’s law enforcement operation, the Zarati Shop in Abingdon posted on its Facebook page that “police love to mess up a good day.”
Cardinal staffers Dwayne Yancey and Tad Dickens contributed information to this report.