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Mark Hayward's City Matters: A short history of the spice trade

August 20. 2014 10:28PM
Minutes after TN Gas and Convenience reopened Monday in Manchester, Jerry Anderson, left, made a purchase from Omar Hassan. (MARK HAYWARD / UNION LEADER)

A SPRINKLING of spice.

Random thoughts about the drug spice and the crackdown in Manchester. Manchester doesn’t have a spice problem, it has a drug problem.

Speak to people in Bronstein Park, and it becomes clear that spice is just one patch in the tapestry of this city’s drug culture.

Christo Shaw, 28, said users prefer spice because it might mean a clean drug test.

“We were always getting in trouble for smoking weed,” said Shaw, who is on probation and must submit to drug tests. A stay-at-home mom, Shaw said she stopped smoking spice because of last week’s dozens of overdoses.

She hung out at Bronstein Park this week, where several of her friends offered their thoughts.

An emaciated brunette in her 30s, who would not give her name, said spice helps when she can’t get other drugs.

“If you don’t have heroin and you have spice, you can get through the day better,” she said.

But others said they won’t take spice, after an initial experience that bordered on terrible.

“It scared the heck out of me,” said a man who gave the name of Larry. The 50-year-old said his heart raced, and he became panicky.

Doctors have seen patients become extremely paranoid. They remain in their homes. One a 20-year-old, threw furniture at his parents, thinking they were trying to harm him, said Dr. Travis Harker, a Concord family doctor and former president of the New Hampshire Medical Society.

He then grew depressed, suicidal and had to be admitted to the state hospital, Harker said. He can’t say what the long-term harms of spice are.

“Cocaine is cocaine, marijuana is marijuana, spice is not one thing,” Harker said. “You don’t know what you’re getting. It’s extremely dangerous.”

And what will happen now that spice is hard to get? Most in the Bronstein Park crowd said users will turn — or return — to marijuana.

When a win is a loss.

The owners of TN Gas and Convenience claimed victory when they reopened their market on Monday, after a judge ruled in their favor and ordered the city to restore their business license.

Yet Mayor Ted Gatsas seemed just as happy Tuesday afternoon, even though the Administration Committee restored business licenses of TN Gas and two others (with the caveat they no longer sell spice).

I’m sure Gatsas was thinking, ‘Who cares what a judge says?’

Consider the damage caused by the city’s legal barrage: Two corner stores were closed for six days. TN Gas was closed for only five days, but had to hire a lawyer to open a day earlier. The closures represent thousands of dollars in lost sales and legal bills. TN Gas said it lost $10,000 a day in sales.

The message: Spice burns through profits like cayenne on your tongue.

Gatsas has no regrets. “If it happened 100 times,” he said. “I would do it 100 times the same way.”

New Hampshire is behind the curve.

According to a 2-year-old compilation by the National Conference of State Legislatures, 41 states and Puerto Rico have passed laws to ban synthetic marijuana. It lists New Hampshire with nothing.

New Hampshire, in fact, does have a weak law against synthetic drugs, but efforts to strengthen it were sidetracked this year.

The sponsor of the effort, state Rep. Kris Roberts of Keene, said it was tough going. Liberals didn’t want the law to have jail penalties, and libertarians didn’t want a new drug law on the books, he said.

And then experts said that spice producers can easily subvert the law by making slight chemical changes to the drug to keep it legal.

“In the end, it was determined there was little we could do legislatively,” said Rep. Don Lebrun, who worked on the legislation.

But Roberts said everyone’s interested in the problem now, and he expects a study committee, which meets next Wednesday, will fashion some kind of law.

Kiddie drug.

You wonder if the marketing agency that created Joe Camel isn’t behind the Smacked! brand of spice.

The spice is sold in a packet that shows the image of a cute cartoon face with bloodshot eyes. And the flavor of the bad stuff is bubblegum. What’s next, chocolate ice cream-flavored Big Bird spice?

Two years ago, Central High School suffered an outbreak of five spice poisonings.

Michael Mientus, one of the first customers when TN Gas reopened, said the low cost of spice makes it an ideal drug for people with little money, specifically teens and the homeless.

Marijuana goes for about $10 for a gram; spice is $10 for four grams, which can be rolled up into about five cigarettes, said Mientus, an unemployed foundry worker who said he tried spice only once.

Bronstein Park visitor Larry said Manchester corner stores don’t sell spice to children, but children can get young adults to buy spice on their behalf, just like they do for alcohol.

Mark Hayward’s City Matters appears Thursday in the New Hampshire Union Leader and He can be reached at

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