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North Dakota tobacco shop owner changes plea in drug paraphernalia case

Ryan Loeb, owner of Tokes "R" Us, holds packages of kratom, an herbal supplement, in February at his store in Bismarck. Mike McCleary / Bismarck Tribune

BISMARCK—A Bismarck tobacco shop owner accused of possessing drug paraphernalia for use with controlled substances changed his plea to guilty on Monday, Aug. 20, in South Central District Court.

Ryan James Loeb, the owner of Tokes "R" Us in Bismarck, was arrested on April 20 after Bismarck Police officers raided his store. He pleaded guilty to two felony counts of unlawful manufacture or delivery of drug paraphernalia, schedule I, II, II, two misdemeanor counts of manufacture or delivery of drug paraphernalia, schedule IV, V or marijuana, and one misdemeanor count of possession of a schedule II opiate.

At Loeb's preliminary hearing in June, Bismarck Police Detective Mike Bolme testified that officers did three controlled buys from Loeb, once in November and twice in April, during which Loeb used terms consistent with the devices used with controlled substances, such as marijuana.

On Monday, Loeb's attorney Lloyd Suhr told Judge Bruce Romanick that testimony from police and other evidence could have led a jury to find Loeb guilty.

"There were definitely some items that I think the state could have established were designed for controlled substance use," Suhr said. "But there were also ... a lot of things being sold in this establishment that were not designed for controlled substance use."

Burleigh County Assistant State's Attorney Tessa Vaagen recommended an 18 months deferred sentence with supervised probation, while Suhr recommended a year deferred with unsupervised probation.

Suhr noted that Loeb has no prior criminal convictions and that Loeb was "cooperative" during the police investigation.

Romanick sentenced Loeb to 18 months deferred with unsupervised probation, meaning if Loeb fulfills the terms of his sentence, he will see the crime wiped off his record.

"People go into shops and buy pipes and buy grinders and use them for illegal substances. They can buy them online, they can buy them wherever. It's an age-old thing," Romanick said. "(You can) use cigars to pack with marijuana. You can't go into a cigar shop and seize all the cigars. You can't seize all of the cough medicine."

Still, Romanick told Loeb: "You and I can both sit here and you know the vast majority of your clients are buying your items for use with controlled substances."

Vaagen said after the hearing that she recommended a deferred sentence because Loeb has no criminal history.

Loeb said he's happy about the sentence he received, but is still hoping he can get back some of $40,000 worth of merchandise police took.

"None of this should have happened anyway, but the outcome is decent, at least," he said, adding that he plans to change the name of his store to Oddball and, instead, sell "fun and unique items."

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