A 68-year-old man was sentenced to prison for running a massive drug ring based around 'weaponised marijuana'

John Bowen, a 68-year-old Las Vegas man, was sentenced to five years in federal prison on Monday for his role as kingpin of a nationwide criminal organisation that marketed and sold the drug “Spice” or synthetic marijuana.

Spice is a lab-produced mind-altering drug that aims to mimic the effects of marijuana, but is known to have unpredictable and sometimes dangerous effects, despite being marketed as a safe, legal alternative to marijuana.

According to Reuters, Bowen’s operation involved importing a chemical product from China to a property of his in Florida where it was sprayed on a green vegetable substance before being packaged and shipped to wholesalers and retailers in Colorado and throughout the United States.

Bowen’s organisation operated under the name “The Really Cool Stuff” but then changed it to “Heart of Asia” after the drug started to receive negative media attention. Bowen’s product was sold in gas stations and corner stores in Colorado and was also found in Wisconsin, Illinois, and Nebraska, Reuters says.

The sentence is the conclusion of a two-year investigation that began after 221 Spice-related emergency room visits in the Denver and Colorado Springs area in the fall of 2013. According to the Denver Post, some of the victims had tried to light themselves on fire and one had tried to cut off his own head. The victims ranged in age from 12 to 70 years old, the Post added.

At the time, the Center for Disease Control declared the hospitalizations a health epidemic.

Bowen was indicted in May 2014 by a federal grand jury in Denver. He has pleaded guilty to conspiracy to defraud the United States, distribution of controlled substances and money laundering. In addition, Bowen will be forced to pay $US1.8 million and forfeit three properties in Florida, according to Reuters.

Seven other people from across the country have also pleaded guilty for their involvement in the Spice ring and have each been given sentences that range from probation to 42 months in prison, the Post reports.

“By using our financial expertise to follow the money and working with other law enforcement partners we were able to dismantle the operation and get Spice off the streets which in the end will save lives,” Steven Osborne, acting special agent in charge of IRS criminal investigation, Denver Field Office, said in a release after the sentencing.

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