By Angeljean Chiarmidia
---- — SEABROOK — Tamara Calabrese says her family has lost everything after her husband became addicted to synthetic cannabinoids, or “fake weed,” and she’s become a force behind the local move to keep the produce, legally sold in town as herbal incense, out of the hands of users.
A mother and wife who saw her son fall victim to synthetic marijuana and her 61-year old husband lose his job, the family savings and retirement due to his addiction to it, Calabrese is now also the defendant in a lawsuit brought against her by the two local stores she’s called out publicly for selling the product.
In his lawsuit brief, attorney Richard Foley claims Calabrase defamed his Seabrook smoke shop clients, Smokers City and the Smoking Monkey, when she said at the selectmen’s meeting that the stores sold synthetic cannabinoid with full knowledge it was harming people. Foley claims Calabrase made similar statements on Facebook pages.
The suit seeks to make Calabrese stop making such statements, she said, and it is also seeking damages.
“They’ve come after me because I named names and called a spade a spade,” Calabrase said last week. “I saw my son and husband addicted. I don’t know what the long-term health affects are for people who become addicted to this stuff. I’ve already lost everything. I have nothing left to lose. They’re trying to intimidate me, trying to make me shut up, but I won’t shut up, and I will not be intimidated.”
Synthetic cannabinoid is chemically treated herbs sold legally as a pleasant-smelling herbal incense. But when smoked, it produces an addictive high many believe is more dangerous than marijuana due to the chemicals that are inhaled. Originally sold under names such of K-2 or Spice, which were since banned, other brands have taken their place. According to Seabrook Sgt. Brett Walker, local police most often see the synthetic cannabinoid brand Bizarro.
Although the federal Drug Enforcement Agency has banned several of the substances used to alter the herbs through spraying, as soon as one chemical is barred, others are introduced. Packages of synthetic cannabinoids are stamped “not for human consumption,” a technicality making it very difficult to ban their sale or even control the product, Walker said, even though most who buy the substance do so to smoke it.
Previous to filing this suit against Calabrese, Foley threatened to sue the town to get officials to stop replaying over Seabrook’s cable channel the recording of the selectmen’s Sept. 9 meeting when Calabrese and others slammed synthetic marijuana and those who legally sell it in the community. But the town refused, citing legal precedent that allows its rebroadcast as a “faithful representation of what happened at the meeting.” As of Friday, Town Manager Bill Manzi said the town has not been served with a lawsuit.
On Thursday, Calabrese and her attorney Tom Gleason of Haverhill will meet Foley at Rockingham County Superior Court for a pre-trial hearing, she said. She doesn’t know what will happen, but she feels she’s well represented.
Calabrese believes the lawsuit against her is also intended to intimidate others who’ve come out against synthetic cannabinoid. The suit is meant to silence them, she believes, for they might fear they’ll also get sued. Selling fake weed is a lucrative business, she said, and there’s a lot of money at stake for those who do.
The well-organized movement joined by Calabrese, other affected families and the Seabrook Watchdogs neighborhood watch has resulted in a new town ordinance that makes it unlawful to transport, use or possess synthetic cannabinoids or their derivatives on Seabrook roads, sidewalks or any town property. Those who do are subject to a $550 fine.
To show solidarity with Calabrese, a group of concerned residents will mount a protest march on Friday, with picketers expected at both local smoke shops. The protest organizers, known as the Citizens Against the Sale of Synthetic Cannabinoids, invites other like-minded individuals to join them on that day to send a message to the store owners, in hopes they’ll voluntarily take the products off their shelves.