NewburyportNews.com, Newburyport, MA

October 8, 2013

Curbs put on 'fake weed'

Selectmen OK ordinance to control use of synthetic cannabinoids

BY ANGELJEAN CHIARAMIDA
STAFF WRITER

---- — SEABROOK — It is now unlawful to transport, use or possess synthetic cannabinoids or their derivatives on Seabrook roads, sidewalks or any town property, under a unique town ordinance unanimously approved by the Board of Selectmen last night.

It was a move that drew applause from a standing-room-only crowd. It also drew tears of joy from an East Kingston mother and Seabrook businesswoman who’s seen her son’s life ruined by the use of this legally sold, chemically treated herbal incense, that when abused and smoked is known as “fake weed.”

“My 27-year old son and his girlfriend are addicted to it,” said the woman, who would give only her first name, Darlene.

The woman said that with nowhere to live due to their addiction, the young couple and their baby had moved in with her recently because of their uncontrollable use of synthetic cannabinoids that they purchased at stores in Seabrook.

The addictions are interfering with their ability to care for their child, she said, and has even led to their arrest when they were found nodding off in their car in a parking lot, while their baby was in the back seat.

Synthetic cannabinoid is supposedly 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 repeatedly 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 and even control the product, Walker said, even though most who buy the substance do so to smoke it.

Synthetic cannabinoids appear to be most popular among 12- to 17-year-olds who can buy the products legally in at least two Seabrook stores, then abuse it by smoking it with no warning of its possible effect. The result in some cases has been devastating.

At a meeting in September, numerous citizens pleaded with selectmen to enact a local ordinances that could put a halt to the legal sale of synthetic cannabinoids in town, sharing personal stories of the impact synthetic marijuana use has had on their family members.

But finding a way to curb the use of fake marijuana through local ordinance was tricky, according to town counsel Robert Ciandella. The approach taken by selectmen last night works within the narrow parameters allowed cities and towns by the state of New Hampshire to regulate this substance, Ciandella said, and stands the best chance of surviving a legal challenge if one is brought.

Since New Hampshire is not a Home Rule State, municipalities can only pass ordinances for issues on which they have specifically been given authority by the state, Ciandella said. New Hampshire has a comprehensive set of state drug laws and towns aren’t permitted to pass others, he said.

However, selectmen are given authority over town property, Ciandella said, and the new ordinance relies on that. Seabrook’s ordinance is similar to one enacted in Wolfeboro, N.H.

Although Seabrook’s ordinance doesn’t prohibit selling synthetic cannabinoids, it makes it unlawful for it be transported on town roads. 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.

Deputy Chief Michael Gallagher cautioned residents to be patient and give police and town officials a little time to work out the logistics of enforcing the new ordinance.

But police are fully behind the new ordinance and intend to enforce it, police Chief Lee Bitomske said last night.