SEABROOK — Picketers arrived early in front of a local store yesterday morning to protest its continued sale of synthetic cannabinoids, or fake marijuana, sold legally as treated herbs that when smoked produces a high that critics call addictive and dangerous.
“We’re not here to shut down the store; that’s not our intent,” said Dora Smith, one of the protest organizers. “We just want them to take synthetic cannabinoids off their shelves.”
Gathering in the parking lot of Trinity United Church at 9 a.m, a group of parents and grandparents prepared signs they hoped as many as 50 people would carry throughout the day in front of The Smoking Monkey and Up in Smoke, two stores that have sold synthetic cannabinoids.
Some, like Kathy Gosselin and Chris Peverely, know too well the devastating impact “synthetics” has had on local youth. Gosselin’s grandson was seriously addicted to fake weed, she said, turning a pleasant, smiling 7-year old with good grades into an angry addict at only 13 years old.
In September, many in town joined with law enforcement launching a campaign to prevent the sale in town of the chemically-sprayed herbs sold legally as pleasant-smelling herbal incense. When smoked, however, the product provides an addictive high many believe is more dangerous than marijuana due to the chemicals that are inhaled.
Walker said local police most often see the synthetic cannabinoid brand Bizarro, and have been told it’s available at the two local stores. Packages are stamped “not for human consumption,” Walker said, a technicality making it difficult to ban the sale or control the product, even though police know most who buy it smoke it to get high.
Smith said the protest has a second goal of supporting Tamara Calabrese, who is being sued by the owners of the Smoking Monkey through their attorney Robert Foley. Calabrese, whose husband and son were addicted to fake marijuana, has been vocal in her campaign to halt the sale of the product in town. The suit claims Calabrase defamed the store in a public meeting, and calls for an injunction and damages.
The suit states that, “Ms. Calabrese identified both of my clients busines(s)es by name and asserted without foundation or fact that they are ‘selling a product with full knowledge ... that it is harming and killing people’.”
Calabrese believes the lawsuit is an attempt to intimidate her and others to be silent in their battle against synthetic cannabinoids. However, she insists, she won’t be intimidated or silenced.
Smith and Kiki Evans were in the courtroom to support Calabrese when she appeared before Judge N. William Delker on Thursday for a hearing at Rockingham County Superior Court. Smith said Calabrese’s lawyer, Thomas Gleason, argued for her Constitutional right to free speech, as well as that the comments she made were at a public meeting, that of the Seabrook Board of Selectmen.
Evans said Judge Delker appeared familiar with synthetic cannabinoids and the issues surrounding their improper use.
“He said he’d sat on a murder case that involved synthetics,” Evans said.
At the end of Thursday’s hearing, Smith said, Delker took the case under advisement while he deliberated to render a decision.
Reacting to the pleas from residents, recently selectmen passed a local ordinance making it illegal to transport, use or possess synthetic cannabinoids or their derivatives on Seabrook roads, sidewalks or any town property. Although Seabrook’s ordinance doesn’t prohibit selling synthetic cannabinoids, the regulations works within the authority local communities have on the subject of drug abuse, and it makes it unlawful for it be transported on town roads.
The new ordinance means that trucks can’t drive over Seabrook roads to bring the product to stores in town, and purchasers can’t transport it over town roads after buying it at local stores. Any person found in violation of the ordinance risks a fine of $550 per incident.