The Owner Of The Gas Pipe Head Shop Chain (And Also Fort Worth’s Ridglea Theater) Faces Life in Prison For Mass-Producing And Selling Synthetic Marijuana.
As if its years-long restoration project didn’t face enough hurdles on its own, the man dubbed the “hero” of the rebirth of Fort Worth’s Ridglea Theater, Gerald “Jerry” Shults, is currently on trial for hawking synthetic marijuana at his chain of Gas Pipe head shops.
We first reported on this story back in 2014, speaking to an anonymous Gas Pipe employee about the company’s shady business practices after the DEA raided properties owned by Shults and his daughter, Amy Herrig. Now, Shults, Herrig and three other employees are finally standing trial, facing a potential of 40 years for each of the dozens of counts levied against them as part of this case. If found guilty, Shults and Herrig could each each be punished with life sentences.
Per the initial indictment, Shults and Herrig’s Gas Pipe company manufactured and distributed millions of dollars of synthetic cannabinoids that it marketed as K2 or spice and then labeled as incense, potpourri or aroma therapy products not meant for human consumption.
The case against them hinges on a sort of legal grey area. According to the Federal Analog Act, chemicals that are “substantially similar” to Schedule I banned substances are to be treated exactly like the substances they’re emulating. Whereas K2 has been a Schedule I banned substance since President Obama signed the Synthetic Drug Abuse Prevention Act of 2012, Shults and Co. changed the chemical makeup of their spice products four separate times to try to stay one step ahead of the law. According to the Dallas Morning News, “When a substance was about to be added to the banned list, the Gas Pipe had a ‘fire sale’ up until midnight to get it off their shelves.”
That jives with what our anonymous informant told us in 2014: “What I and everyone else that works [at the Gas Pipe] was told is that the stuff we were selling is totally in the bounds of the law,” our source said. “They thought that they were ahead of the legislation and everything. But apparently not.”
Of course, none of this is as cut and dry as it seems to be on paper. Per the Dallas Morning News, defense attorneys will argue that the term “substantially similar” is a subjective one without a hard legal definition. Jurors will be tasked with determining whether the Gas Pipe manufacturing kinda-legal-but-definitely-similar-to-illegal versions of other federally-banned narcotics was done so with willful disregard for the law.
Regardless, it will be an interesting case to keep an eye on over the next month or so — not only for the legal precedence it’ll set and what impact it may have on area head shop culture, but for what baring, if any, the results will have on the Ridglea Theater and that long-beleaguered Fort Worth music venue’s future.