Pelham Police Arrest Store Owner for Selling ‘Spice’ while Windham Sees No Signs of ‘Smacked’

August 22, 2014

by Marc Ayotte

A State of Emergency was recently declared in the State of New Hampshire due to drug overdoses.

The following are excerpts contained in the press release from New Hampshire Governor Maggie Hassan’s office on August 14:

In order to protect public health and well-being, Governor Maggie Hassan today declared a State of Emergency in the State of New Hampshire as a result of recent overdoses in Manchester and Concord as a result of the use or misuse of the synthetic cannabinoid identified as “Smacked!”

The department will work closely with local police departments to quarantine the “bubblegum flavor” of “Smacked!”

Other brands of synthetic cannabinoids may also pose dangers for substance abuse and public health.  Stores are encouraged to voluntarily remove all synthetic cannabinoids from their shelves.

Generally referred to as “spice,” synthetic cannabinoids are chemically engineered substances similar to tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), the active ingredient in marijuana.  While they are labeled as not for human consumption, “herbal incense” products of this type are known to be ingested by smoking or brewing into a tea because they contain synthetic cannabinoids.

Since August 11, the Manchester Police Department and local health authorities reported at least 41 people in the Manchester area have experienced serious medical reactions to the synthetic cannabinoid and at least 20 were taken by ambulance to Manchester hospitals for treatment.  In addition, the Concord Police Department reported at least three cases in one 24-hours period (Aug.19-20)

The declaration will be in effect for 21 days unless terminated earlier or extended by further order.

Just one day into the proposed duration, the following press release surfaced:

On August 15, the Pelham Police Departments Criminal Bureau and NH State Police Narcotics Investigation Unit ended a six-month long investigation into the sale of synthetic marijuana within the town of Pelham.  Arrested was Christopher Matte, 43, of Hudson.  Matte is the owner and employee of Ace Discount Cigarettes, located at on Bridge Street in Pelham.  He was charged with two counts of felony Sale of Drugs, after police conducted search warrants at two locations, one of which was Ace Discount Cigarettes.  The charges stem from the distribution of synthetic marijuana, also commonly known as “Spice.”  The case was expedited due (to) the recent rash of overdoses throughout the state of New Hampshire.

Pelham detectives and troopers from the NH State Police Narcotics Investigation Unit recovered approximately $7,000 in cash along with over 100 individual bags of synthetic marijuana.  These individual bags were being sold for $19.99.  During the search warrant, the cashier admitted that he was aware of the State of Emergency, due to the number of overdoses in the New Hampshire area, but did continue the sales of “Spice” throughout the day anyway.

Several months ago, Pelham detectives actually met with Matte and requested that he halt any further sales, due to the amount of issues that area users were having after ingesting the products that he was selling.  He was made aware of how our local young people were smoking this product and what the side effects of this drug were.  This store was previously burglarized in October of 2013, at which time Matte claimed nothing was taken.  Investigators later learned that his entire supply of synthetic marijuana had been targeted and stolen.

One day prior to the arrest of Matte, this reporter had a chance to sit down with PPD Detective Sergeant Thomas O’Donnell.  According to O’Donnell, “Spice” is very common and very popular with younger kids between the ages of 15 and 18 as well as with people in their 20s and 30s.  A concern that the sergeant conveyed was that “the kids don’t understand that it’s a chemical high.  They don’t understand the side effects are very, very dangerous.”  O’Donnell went on to acknowledge that there have been instances of “Spice” usage in Pelham; “In these cases, it was clear cut they were using the product,” O’Donnell said.

In an a troubling rationale found among select store owners who have been known to sell the product, O’Donnell revealed in his own words the mindset of those who lack the moral fiber to choose right over profits.  The sergeant often hears this kind of response:  “We’re not responsible (for) what the people do with the product after they leave the store.”  Equally disturbing, as O’Donnell points out, is that “the package is marketed to the kids.”  Although he started noticing the product about two years ago, O’Donnell pointed out that, “the amount of kids using (it) is at its height now.”

With less than acceptable results, the Pelham detective admitted, “We have addressed the issue with stores in our town.  We’ve had some stores comply, and others refuse to comply,” – a disturbing scenario in itself.  “They’re profit-driven decisions,” added O’Donnell.

In acknowledging that battling the sale of this product is “an ongoing fight,” he offered a voice of reason, saying he was “hopeful for further legislation to put a halt to all these sales.”

Meanwhile in the bordering town of Windham, Police Chief Gerald Lewis is pleased with the fact that “Smacked,” Spice or the like have not been an issue.  “We’ve had no incident in our community where that product has been involved,” reflected the WPD chief.  In similar attempts employed by other nearby police departments to seek and remove along with educate and inform, Lewis offered the following:  “We have surveyed all the stores.  We did not find anybody who had it in their inventory or available to the public.”  Lewis went on to say that “our review was spurred by what happened in Manchester – we tried to be proactive with the searches.”

Although the police are not aware of any members of the community having been affected by the use or selling of the illegal substance, Chief Lewis recognizes that “the key is vigilance; we have to stay on top of it.”