This October 2015 photo provided by the U.S. Department of Justice shows a protest staged in front of Tobacco Distress, a Soldotna-area store then allegedly selling the synthetic cannabis drug Spice near Soldotna, Alaska. Tobacco Distress owner Phillip Kneeland was sentenced to 70 months in prison Friday for selling the drug, which caused a number of people on the Kenai Peninsula to be taken to the hospital after taking it. (Photo courtesy the U.S. Department of Justice)

This October 2015 photo provided by the U.S. Department of Justice shows a protest staged in front of Tobacco Distress, a Soldotna-area store then allegedly selling the synthetic cannabis drug Spice near Soldotna, Alaska. Tobacco Distress owner Phillip Kneeland was sentenced to 70 months in prison Friday for selling the drug, which caused a number of people on the Kenai Peninsula to be taken to the hospital after taking it. (Photo courtesy the U.S. Department of Justice)

Soldotna man sentenced to 70 months of prison for selling Spice

A Soldotna man has been sentenced to 70 months in prison after being convicted of charged related to selling the illegal drug Spice through his business Tobacco Distress.

Phillip Kneeland, 34, of Soldotna, was arrested in December 2015 after a coordinated raid conducted by the Alaska State Troopers’ Statewide Drug Enforcement Unit, the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency, the Internal Revenue Service and the Kenai Police Department on Tobacco Distress, located just outside Soldotna at approximately mile 91.5 of the Sterling Highway. Troopers seized approximately 6,000 packets of synthetic cannabis, also known as Spice, and arrested Kneeland, his wife and employee William Dooley, 27, in connection with selling the drug.

Spice is an herbal mixture sprayed with laboratory-generated chemicals meant to mimic the effects of cannabis, according to the Alaska Department of Health and Social Services. It can agitate users and cause aggressive behavior, hypertension and seizures, and between July 2015 and March 2016, more than 1,300 people were transported to Anchorage hospitals in relation to Spice use, according to a report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

U.S. District Court Judge for Alaska Timothy Burgess sentenced Kneeland on Friday, ordering him to forfeit his 2014 GMC truck, about $75,400 and four firearms in addition to the prison time, according to a news release from the U.S. Department of Justice.

“Judge Burgess also ordered that Kneeland perform 200 hours of community service upon his release from prison, because Kneeland’s sales triggered an epidemic of Spice-related law enforcement responses on the Kenai Peninsula, including emergency room visits, suspected suicides and DUIs, severely impacting the community,” the release states. “The Court heard testimony from a local resident and local law enforcement that the Spice epidemic on the Kenai Peninsula has essentially disappeared since Kneeland’s arrest.”

Kneeland pled guilty to the charges on March 6. According to indictment documents, he began selling Spice in 2014 both in Alaska and elsewhere.

In October 2015, a group of Kenai Peninsula residents staged an open protest in front of Tobacco Distress after allegations that Kneeland was selling Spice became public.

Reach Elizabeth Earl at elizabeth.earl@peninsulaclarion.com.

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