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Jan 20, 2015 3:36 PM

NH1 Investigates: Banned in NH stores, users still buying spice online


MANCHESTER - All it takes is a quick Google search, and few clicks.

Anyone with a credit card can buy synthetic marijuana or "spice" online.

Websites advertise it as "legal pot." How can this happen? Manufacturers sell it as an incense.

Manchester Police Lt. Brian O'Keefe says it is clear people are buying it to use as a drug.

"People aren't paying 24 dollars an ounce for their house to smell good. People are spending 24 dollars an ounce to get high," O'Keefe said.

The drug has wreaked havoc in New Hampshire.

Manchester saw more than 50 overdoses last August. Gov. Maggie Hassan declared a state of emergency, banning the product from being sold in stores, but the manufacturer still sells it online.

It's not necessarily illegal. Only certain chemical components make it illegal, and they're constantly changing their formula.

"They try and stay a step ahead the DEA. So if we get it and we test it, it has to test positive for specific ingredients, and there's a multitude of ingredients," O'Keefe said.

The NH Attorney General's Office runs into issues with enforcement. Assistant Attorney General James Vara says the fact it's available online makes it even more difficult.

"You can criminalize it certainly stores that are selling it you can criminalize people who have it in their possession but again, it's being sold online. You can only protect the end user of this so far," Vara said.

A legislative committee was formed to study the problem in New Hampshire. They found in 2013, more than 14.1% of high school students reported using synthetic drugs, more than 2,000 say they tried it once or twice, and more than 500 reported using it 100 times or more.

"Now what they've done is they've totally bypassed the actual vegetative state and they've gone right to what they call an 'e-juice.' They're taking it and ingesting it as a liquid in an electronic cigarette," O'Keefe said.

Manchester police credit the governor's actions for a significant decrease in overdoses. They say they still find spice, but it is not as big of a problem as it was over the summer. Lt. O'Keefe says the fact that it is online makes it that much easier for people to get their hands on it.

"It makes it a little more difficult for us as a law enforcement agency to combat the problem that we saw back in August." O'Keefe said.

The full legislative report can be seen here.


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