KEENE — Downtown head shop Phat Stuff was included in a Drug Enforcement Administration nationwide synthetic drug raid Wednesday.
“We’re targeting every level of the designer synthetic drug market in the U.S., wholesalers, retailers, manufacturers, the whole gamut,” said DEA spokesman Rusty Payne.
Phat Stuff was one of more than 200 locations searched Wednesday.
“We’re looking at 150, 160 arrests nationwide,” Payne said.
Payne would not speak specifically about Keene or whether anyone was arrested as a result of the search of Phat Stuff.
A crowd of Phat Stuff patrons and members of the Free Keene movement gathered outside Phat Stuff on Main Street Wednesday afternoon, many trying to get a glimpse inside the smoke shop.
Store employee Evan Prokowich said he was called to the store shortly after 11 a.m. Wednesday when the employee opening the store said the DEA had arrived with a search warrant.
“They basically said, ‘We’re taking everything and you have to leave,” Prokowich said.
About a dozen DEA agents were inside the store, he said.
Prokowich said the shop had sold “herbal incense” in the past, but stopped months ago when the city banned it.
“We really didn’t want to carry it any more anyway,” he said.
Prokowich said he wasn’t told what the DEA was looking for, but was given a document that said products such as bongs and water pipes and any other devices uses to inhale or ingest illegal drugs would be seized.
“Everything we have is for tobacco use only,” Prokowich said.
He added the store also sells sex toys.
Just before 4:30 p.m. the crowd moved out to the back of the store where DEA agents, one wearing a ski mask, filled a U-Haul truck with boxes labeled DEA evidence.
“We’ve done absolutely nothing wrong. We’re getting all this stuff back,” Prokowich said.
Members of Free Keene videotaped the DEA agents and some heckled the agents about taking the store’s merchandise, saying they were taking away the store owner’s livelihood.
Ian Freeman asked the agents if they would think it ironic when they reward themselves at the end of the day with an alcoholic beverage.
Rich Paul said he believes all drugs should be legal and said there is nothing in the Constitution that allows for the federal government to prohibit drug use.
“People should be free to pursue happiness in their own ways,” he said to the DEA agents.
The raids targeted synthetic drugs, which are often manufactured in China, and packaged as incense, spice, bath salts or plant food and labeled not for human consumption, but have caused overdoses because people can buy them over the counter and know they are designed to mimic illegal drugs. Some are hallucinogens some stimulants.
These synthetic concoctions are dangerous and people are getting duped by the marketing and packaging, Payne said.“This is the new frontier. These designer synthetic drugs with advances in science and chemistry,” Payne said.