City aims to ban the sale of spice

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Lab results are due any day that will determine exactly what the chemical was that sent dozens of people to the hospital this week. That, in turn, will determine whether criminal charges will be brought against retailers selling “spice” from Manchester stores, according to the Hillsborough County Attorney’s office.

“There are different chemical components which are actually controlled drugs in what we generically call ‘spice.’ One is XLR-11 and the other is AB-Fubinaca. Those two are controlled, and if a substance tests positive for either of those, you can be charged criminally,” said Assistant Hillsborough County Attorney Brett Harpster.

Harpster said the way spice is circulated is much like any other illegal drug, although he was not able to speak specifically about how a batch of bubblegum flavored spice sold under the brand name Smacked was actually distributed in Manchester.

“We know the originating source is China, and it’s definitely being sold in bulk – very large bulk. It’s just like any other drug dealing, there’s always a higher source,” he said.

Harpster said he is currently working on a case that involves spice, but would not elaborate on whether it was connected to the Manchester overdoses.

Manchester Police Lt. James Soucy said Friday  that the report from the state lab was expected by the end of the day, or early next week.

Assistant Chief of Police Nick Willard said Friday that they still don’t know just how much of the bubblegum-flavored Smacked spice is circulating. For example, one store of the three where it was found turned over nine packages of the 100 they purchased from a supplier, which leaves 91 packages at large, Willard said.

“And those are directly related to the 47 overdoses,” Willard said. “I’ve heard the narrative that it’s a potpourri and it’s not and illegal substance so how dare the city clerk shut down the business. But it’s the manner in which it’s being sold, which suggests to a reasonable person that they’re not selling it as a potpourri. Otherwise, it would be sold on the shelves as  potpourri, just like a bag of potato chips.”

Willard said police believe that some stores which they checked are known to sell spice, even though they told police they do not.

“We’re not naive. We’ll continue to investigate and at any level, if we find anyone is doing anything illegal that we can move forward with a criminal charge, we’ll present it to the county attorney’s office and we will enforce the law to its fullest extent,” Willard said.

A hearing for the three businesses has been scheduled for Aug. 19, during a 2 p.m. Committee on Administration meeting.

Hans Food Market, one of three shut down by the city for selling spice.
Hans Food Market, one of three shut down by the city for selling spice.

Earlier this week Mayor Gatsas announced that the city had revoked the licenses of Han’s Food Mart, 353 Maple Street; Union Street Market, 621 Union Street; and TN Convenience, 90 Bridge Street, citing Chapter 110.2 of the city’s ordinance that covers business license revocation for public nuisance issues.

City Clerk Matt Normand explained that the Committee on Administration oversees license issues. Although the meeting is open, there is an option to go into non-public session.

“Things could be said on either side that could potentially harm the reputation of a licensee, and so they have the option to go into a non-public session,” Normand said.

Any vote would be public, he said.

Normand also said the city is still in the process of tabulating the cost for police, fire and ambulance response to the emergency calls, which the city would like to recoup.

On Thursday Gov. Maggie Hassan declared a public health emergency after Concord Police reported similar issues with spice.

Enforcing a ban on this particular product line can be difficult, given the changing chemical compounds used in manufacturing spice.

In February, the town of Tilton signed into law a comprehensive six-page ordinance that has made a huge difference there, according to Police Chief Robert Cormier.

The spice consumption there had reached critical mass a few years ago when teachers and principals told him students were coming to school under the influence.

“I meet with the schools on a monthly basis. That’s how I found out what was going on in the schools,” Cormier said.

Cormier had his detectives investigate, not only what was being sold in Tilton, but whether other municipalities were dealing with spice.

“We found out Keene was having quite a problem, as well. In the meantime, I called the DEA and they said they were looking at it, too, because they were starting to get complaints on a national level. At that point, my detectives and some detectives from Keene contacted the state lab and got advice on the best way to craft and ordinance in the best way to prohibit it from being sold,”

The ordinance, known as “Prohibition of the Possession or Sale of Synthetic Cannabinoids,” includes phrases such as, “Any compound containing a indazole ring system with a substituent at the 1-position nitrogen atom and bearing an additional substituent at the 3-position of the indazole ring system with a linkage connecting the ring system to the substituent where the linage of connecting the indazole ring to the substituent at its 3 position is any of the following:,” which then lists more than a dozen different chemicals and compounds. Violators face a $5oo fine if found selling substances that meet the criteria outlined in the ordinance.

“Immediately after passing the ordinance, we ordered stores to get it off the  shelves and they did so immediately. And after that, the schools didn’t see any issues.”

The town of Belmont requested a copy of Tilton’s ordinance, which they enacted in June.

Cormier said there have been isolated incidences outside of the problems at the schools, of individuals found overdosed, but there has definitely been an improvement since banning the sale of spice.

“It’s made a huge improvement in our community,” Cormier said. “It’s pretty scary stuff. They treat this potpourri with chemicals that are not good. They aren’t designed to be smoked.  If you go to YouTube you can see videos of people having near overdoses and acting out of control. It’s dangerous – very dangerous stuff.”

Here in Manchester, Willard said he would support any effort by the city to ban the sale of spice.

“I believe the governor has said she’d like to move forward with a statewide ban, and I would certainly encourage the city to look into a similar ban here, and I’d fully support that,” Willard said.

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About Carol Robidoux 5555 Articles
Journalist and editor of ManchesterInkLink.com, a hyperlocal news and information site for Manchester, NH.