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Following Police Request, Synthetic Marijuana Pulled From Local Shelves

Weeks after police and health officials targeted two downtown stores for selling products such as “K2,” “Head Trip,” and “Cloud 9,” the products — which exist in a legal gray area in Massachusetts — are no longer available at Shop Therapy and Amazing.net.

By AMANDA DRANE

NORTHAMPTON — In what city officials called an “education campaign,” police visited thirty shops earlier this month to deliver a letter from the Health Department and the Northampton Prevention Coalition requesting that any synthetic marijuana and “bath salt” products be voluntarily removed from shelves.

Those found to be carrying the fake pot received a follow-up notice from the police, who wrote that if the products were sold knowing they would be misused, the seller could be subject to criminal charges.

According to Detective Lieutenant Ken Watson, two city stores were found to be selling synthetic marijuana: Shop Therapy on downtown Main Street, and Amazing.net on King Street.

Shop Therapy on Main Street was one of two stores to receive letters from police and public health officials asking them to stop selling synthetic marijuana and bath salts.

Watson told Northampton Media that he developed the idea for the voluntary compliance sweep after Westfield police took action against two stores that were selling synthetic marijuana. The product is legal to sell as “potpourri” or “incense.” But in January, Westfield police seized thousands of dollars in merchandise, invoking an obscure state law that renders it illegal to inhale certain substances.

Westfield police got a tip from a School Resource Officer that kids were coming to Northampton to purchase the products and informed the Northampton Police Department, Watson said.

“We’re trying to educate [shop owners] first so it doesn’t become a problem later on,” Watson said.

“I know a lot of kids that do it. Everyone who’s on probation does it.” — a 16-year-old Northampton resident

 

Amazing.net and Shop Therapy have both since pulled the products from their shelves, store representatives told Northampton Media.

Watson said that the particular brand Amazing.net was selling is not on the FDA’s list of known products, and that he intends to “look into it further” and get back to them. A clerk at Amazing.net told us that the store had previously stocked products called “Head Trip” and “Cloud 9,” but that they’re not being sold there anymore.

Shop Therapy had “K2,” a common brand of synthetic marijuana, on the shelves. Detective Sergeant Anne McMahon delivered notice to proprietor Adam Hazel asking him to remove the products. Watson told Northampton Media that officers will continue to work with Shop Therapy.

“He has some questionable products, but he seems cooperative,” Watson said of Hazel.

Hazel said he had already decided to remove most of the synthetic marijuana after the Westfield bust and that he has not sold it to anyone under 18. He said he is aware that the products have negative health effects when smoked and that he was more than willing to remove the last of the products to prevent further problems.

A clerk at Amazing.net said that "Cloud 9" and "Head Trip" are no longer available at the store.

“I don’t mind pulling it either, ’cause I’d rather not have the headache. And it’s really not good for you either. It’s a joke,” Hazel said.

Shop Therapy has several shops throughout New England owned and operated by Hazel’s father, Ronny Hazel. Hazel has built a reputation upon selling boundary-pushing products; he said customers come in to request unheard-of items, and if they are legal he tries to procure them.

“People seem to like it,” Hazel said of the synthetic marijuana.

Hazel said the products are “crap,” and not only are they bad for you, but they also do not live up to the real thing.

“You’re better off smoking pot if you have a choice between one or the other,” Hazel said.

“You’re better off smoking pot if you have a choice between one or the other.” — Shop Therapy proprietor Adam Hazel

Hazel added that the products are not worth a struggle and that he appreciates the way the city is handling the issue.

“If towns are taking it on themselves to go around and ask stores not to sell it — that’s cool. I’m down with that. I think that’s the best way to handle it,” Hazel said.

Bath Salts and Synthetic Marijuana a Growing Problem

Police Chief Russell Sienkiewicz said that synthetic marijuana and so-called “bath salts” are showing up in more and more places across the country — even though no bath salts were found in the Northampton sweep.

Bath salts, which have become a significant problem in cities such as Bangor, Maine (see news stories here), contains the amphetamine known as methylenedioxypyrovalerone (MDMA) and may cause agitation, hallucinations, extreme paranoia, delusions, and violent or suicidal behavior.

“We knew this was on the horizon,” Sienkiewicz said.

According to Siekiewicz, companies and individuals that produce the drugs continually change the chemical makeup in order to “beat the law.”

“To make it illegal they have to define it chemically, exactly what the drug is, to put it in the statutes so it’s clear what it is that’s illegal. And that takes how many months, if not years,” Sienkiewicz said.

Synthetic marijuana, often sold as “K2,” does not contain tobacco, so it can be purchased by minors. The shredded plant product may be imbued with synthetic cannabis compounds that bind to the same receptors in the body as THC (delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol), the primary psychoactive component of real marijuana.

“These drugs exist in sort of a limbo netherland,” Health Director Ben Wood said of the synthetics.

34 states, including Maine, have made synthetic drugs such as bath salts illegal,  and the American Medical Association supports national legislation banning the substances.

In Massachusetts, Rep. George Ross, R-Attleboro, filed legislation to prevent bath salts from being sold in stores and classify it as a Class C narcotic. Earlier this month, the Senate approved such a ban, which will now move on the House for consideration.

Sienkiewicz said the products contain harmful chemicals and that for shop owners to be selling them not only poses a public health risk, but also opens the door for lawsuits.

“These drugs exist in sort of a limbo netherland” — Health Director Ben Wood

“If a kid goes out and jumps in front of a car because he’s hallucinating from the K2 or the K3 that he bought from you, it’ll be on you,” Sienkiewicz said.

A 16-year-old boy interviewed for this story said he spent a lot of time smoking the fake pot, but stopped buying it because it was giving him headaches.

“I know a lot of kids that do it. Everyone who’s on probation does it,” he said.

The boy said that the sensation is a kind of “body high” and it made him feel jittery. He said that it doesn’t last long, so he and his friends would smoke a lot of it to keep the high going. He described “potpourri parties,” gatherings where kids all smoked the synthetic products. He said that a couple friends smoked it so much that they began to vomit and cough up blood.

While the products are labeled “not for human consumption,” it is clearly marketed as a product to be smoked.

“The closest you’ll get to the real thing,” the label states.

Sienkiewicz said he is confident that business owners will stop selling the products once they know about the health risks and encourages them to try to return their merchandise for redemption now, instead of losing money if police seize it in the future.

“The law hasn’t completely caught up with this stuff, and we would really appreciate the voluntary compliance before a tragedy occurs,” Sienkiewicz said.

© Northampton Media

Amanda Drane can be reached at amandadrane@northamptonmedia.com

 

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3 Responses for “Following Police Request, Synthetic Marijuana Pulled From Local Shelves”

  1. Northampton Media says:

    xrisma: Thanks for your thoughtful reply. And thanks for the correction re MDPV. One interesting detail in our intern’s article is that the Northampton Prevention Coalition joined forces with the city’s Health Department to sponsor the anti-fake-pot campaign. The NPC is an arm of the Hampshire County SPIFFY coalition. They have a five-year $625,000 grant from the Drug Free Communities Support Program. Northampton Public Schools is the fiscal agent for the grant. Read all about it: http://spiffycoalition.org/archives/1704

  2. xrisma says:

    Wanted to make a minor correction – The ingredient in most “bath salts” is Methylenedioxypyrovalerone (as stated), but that is MDPV, not MDMA (which is ecstasy) and it and most other “bath salt” ingredients are not amphetamine or amphetamine-derivatives (which would be illegal without Rx) but beta-ketone cathinone derivatives, which are not technically legislatively scheduled federally, but are currently banned by the DEA, which also prevents them from being researched as medically relevant substances.

    Interesting story, thank you so much for covering this. I’m a bit concerned about the alarmist nature of the majority of quoted personalities here though. One shop owner’s comment that the marijuana substitutes are “crap” and that “they are really not good for you” and that “you’re better off smoking pot if you have a choice” are antithetical to the reasons that people buy them, particularly that it’s usually people who don’t have a choice to use pot instead. Even though Massachusetts has lessened marijuana possession penalties to basically just a fine, these products exist and sell (very well) because society still sees marijuana as criminally dangerous and has not changed many regulations to be more inline with the liberalized legal status that MA has deemed sufficient, such as probationary drug screening, pre-employment or post-employment random drug screening. MA law suggests that marijuana is less harmful than heroin or methamphetamine by placing it in a substance class carrying comparatively minor penalties, but a positive result for THC while on probation or when applying for or doing random screening at a job almost always carries the same penalty as a positive result for heroin, crack-cocaine, or meth. People subjected to these situations tend to be attracted to these marijuana alternatives for obvious reasons, they are completely legal (currently, as long as manufacturers adhere to the federal and local regulations on the specific substances they use), they do not show up in drug screens and it seems they provide the most similar effects to real thing.

    The lack of evidence provided in the “education letter” that was sent to shop owners to support an inherent danger specifically resulting from synthetic cannabinoid usage and the incorrect implication that ALL synthetic cannabinoid compunds are themselves illegal Schedule 1 substances (and also the irresponsible inclusion of the harmless herb Damiana in the alternative names for the products, which is sold at many local herbal supply shops) does not provide sufficient reason for law enforcement to impede upon a business’ right to sell legal products that they have clear demand for, especially when there are most likely many actually illegal substances that they could be focusing their resources on keeping out of Northampton. In fact, without prior knowledge of the exact substances contained in the products that are being sold (and said substances being found to be illegal), law enforcement’s attempt to intimidate the shop owners is deplorable, and if seizures occurred, would be a fourth amendment violation.

    Chief Sienkiewicz’s irresponsible suggestions that a tragedy WILL occur, or that “If a kid goes out and jumps in front of a car because he’s hallucinating from the K2 or the K3 that he bought from you, it’ll be on you,” is also indicative of the fear tactics often invoked by law enforcement hastily when they are under-informed and over-reactive in their tactics. When a liquor store sells alcohol to a sober person (in an entirely legal transaction) and they harm themselves or the public as a result of using that product, is the liquor store clerk now fully liable for that person’s actions?

  3. tiedyeguy says:

    As usual. the comments of Sienkiewicz indicate a very serious problem with his perspective. “According to Siekiewicz, companies and individuals that produce the drugs continually change the chemical makeup in order to “beat the law.””

    He refers to the legal conduct of the producers of said products to comply with the law. So if any company is attempting to modify a process or product to bring it in line with regluatory changes, they are trying to “beat the law”?

    Talk about a police chief with a not so hidden agenda. The man needs to go.

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