I was more than a little alarmed when I heard on Channel 9 News tonight how Ted Gatsas, the mayor of Manchester, without any legal authority, had decided to send his police out to close down tax paying Manchester businesses doing nothing more than selling the legal substance known as Spice.
How alarmed was I, you might ask.
Glad you asked.
I was so alarmed that I headed downtown to the MCAM studios where I knew Alderman At Large Joe Kelly Levasseur was on live with his Wednesday night show. (He happened to have Andrew Hemingway, my choice for Governor, as a guest).
It seems that Alderman Levasseur was as surprised as I was by this sudden action by our mayor, a former Senate President who certainly should know the difference between what a Legislature and executive is empowered to do. Apparently, the Manchester mayor had decided, without even approval of the Board of Alderman (in fact, it should be the Legislature in Concord to act) to send the police out like we'd expect in some third world or totalitarian country.
As a long-time supporter of the mayor, I simply cannot stand by while he flaunts the democratic process.
In fact--and no one in the media seems to have picked up on this--we had a bill to ban Spice this past year. I know because I sit on the Criminal Justice Committee; we got the bill and after a very lengthy hearing (I recall the snow was piling up outside as the hearing went on) decided that as much as we might want to ban this dangerous substance, we could not without a great deal more work.
The head of the state labs came in and told us that if we passed such a bill, with the specific chemicals spelled out, we might be making things worse because as quickly as laws are passed banning this substance, the makers of Spice simply change the formula to remain legal and in the process often make the product even more dangerous.
I remember all this because I was in charge of writing a rather lengthy explanation for the House Calendar, and the bill was defeated, either unanimously or close to unanimously as I recall.
My explanation is still floating in the ether somewhere. Mayor Gatsas could certainly have had his staff look into it before sending Manchester police out to raid unsuspecting businesses.
From news reports, we are led to believe that a bad batch of spice has hit the streets of Manchester, but those of us who sat through the Criminal Justice hearing (Larry Gagne of Ward 6 Manchester is also on the committee) learned that even "good" batches of this substance can be extremely dangerous. It is incorrectly referred to as synthetic marijuana, but in fact it has nothing to do with marijuana. It is simply plant matter treated with chemicals.
One woman testifying before the committee related how she had nearly died after using the substance, not once, but twice.
Responding to my question of why she used this spice (also called K2 at times), she acknowledged, as I reported at the time (the main stream media seems to have missed it), that she does it because it's legal and also because it's much cheaper than marijuana.
Bingo! Marijuana, a substance which, unlike cigarettes, alcohol, and Spice, (all legal; and very expensive in the case of Spice) is illegal and is expensive only because it's illegal.
This deadly thing called Spice is not merely legal but also deadly and cheap and almost impossible to ban since its producers simply change the formula every time we attempt to outlaw it.
To any sentient human being (and I assume Mayor Gatsas, Governor Maggie Hassan, Speaker Terie Norelli, and Senate President Chuck Morse are all sentient human beings), the answer to the Spice crisis is ever so simple.
If we legalize, regulate (and tax) marijuana, a totally benign substance, in fact a substance with medicinal values, people who want to get high would no longer have to resort to the expensive and dangerous chemicals in spice.
Throughout our history, some people (10 or even 20 percent) have wanted to get high. Alcohol, a very dangerous substance, has often been used as the triggering devise, but it's by no means the only intoxicant. When I was a kid, we heard of youth (and others) sniffing airplane glue to get high, another dangerous substance.
Ted Gatsas apparently has never sent his police out to shut down stores that sell airplane glue; nor has he led a crusade to shut down the state liquor stores (imagine the loss of revenue the success of such a crusade would result in). Yet without any legislative approval whatsoever (in fact as I've noted, the legislature, after careful deliberation, decided it could not ban spice), the mayor sent his police out to close down businesses. We're told he did so at the request of his police chief. If so, I suggest he seek the opinion of the city solicitor regarding the legality of his action. As I said earlier this summer when a Windham policeman decided to require a permit for someone going door to door campaigning, the Legislature makes laws, not the police. Police cannot simply make things up out of thin air, even if a mayor serves as their accomplice.
If they are so concerned with public safetey, rather than crusade against spice, perhaps Gatsas, Hassan, Norelli, and Morse should get on board the effort to legalize, regulate and tax the harmless substance known as marijuana. Right now, Andy Hemingway seems to be the only major leader in the state willing to explore this logical solution.
The one sure way to end the spice crisis in Manchester, throughout New Hampshire, and indeed throughout the country is to give the people what they want (by as much as two to one margins in some polls)--legalization of marijuana.