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August 19. 2014 10:05PM

Manchester stores allowed to reopen after spice outbreak

MANCHESTER — Three inner-city corner stores shut down during the recent outbreak of synthetic marijuana overdoses had their licenses restored Tuesday, but only after pledging not to sell spice-type products.

One by one on Tuesday, representatives from the three businesses sat before the aldermanic Administration Committee and promised not to sell “any type of product commonly known as ‘spice,’” and further defined last week by Gov. Maggie Hassan.

The restriction was added to their licenses, which means it will remain in effect until the license expires. However, legal troubles may not be over for the three.

Police Chief David Mara said a criminal investigation continues into the overdoses. And Deputy Attorney General Ann Rice said some of the packages of Smacked! — a brand of spice involved in the recent overdoses — have tested positive for chemical substances that are illegal under federal law.

She cautioned that it may be difficult to prove that store owners and clerks who sold the spice knew that it contained those illegal substances. Prosecutors would have to prove such knowledge to secure a conviction.

City officials revoked the business licenses of the three convenience stores — TN Gas and Convenience, Han’s Food Mart and Union Street Market — after police said they sold the bubblegum flavored Smacked! to users who later overdosed or had adverse reactions.

Lawyers for two stores — TN Gas and Han’s Food — maintained their client never sold the spice in question.

Manchester lawyer Karyn Forbes, who represents Han’s Food, said police came into the store and showed owner Yun Young Han a photograph of the spice in question. He said it was not in the store, and let police search.

They found nothing, Forbes said, but later returned and revoked the license.

On Monday, a judge noted that police found none of the bubble-gum flavored Smacked! when they searched at TN Gas last week. Police did not reveal the results of the TN search when they asked the city clerk to revoke the store’s license, the judge noted.

Mara said police acted based on the information they obtained from victims.

“We had a public health emergency. We had to take action,” Mara said. He said a criminal investigation continues into the overdoses, and he meets today with state and federal prosecutors to see if New Hampshire laws against spice can be strengthened.

“I think business owners should act responsibly. They now know what this stuff can do,” Mara said.

On Monday, a Hillsborough County Superior Court judge said the city did not follow proper procedures when it suspended the license of TN Gas. The key issue is whether the threat to public health or safety was immediate, ruled the judge, Diane Nicolosi.

But Mayor Ted Gatsas said he would follow the same procedures if the outbreak occurred again.

“It’s easy to understand when you talk about 40 overdoses in a 48-hour period that there’s a problem,” Gatsas said.

Hassan’s emergency declaration, issued last Thursday, targets the bubblegum-flavored Smacked! for quarantine. But she said two other brands — Crazy Monkey and Green Giant — have tested positive for illegal substances.

mhayward@unionleader.com


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