2012-01-26 / Front Page

Coalition, police work to keep drugs off the minds of children

Store owner agrees to stop selling items that some say may entice marijuana use

BY KEN SHANE

According to Jamestown Police Department Detective Derek Carlino, Jamestown is no different from any other town when it comes to the issue of drug abuse.

“I don’t think we’re any different from anywhere else,” Carlino said. “A lot of people are under the impression that because Jamestown is quieter than some other communities in the state that there is less illegal activity going on and less drug use going on. That’s completely false.”

Carlino said that for the size of Jamestown’s population, drug use and other criminal activity is on par with any other community. “We’re no less than anywhere,” he said.

Recently a situation arose in town that was of concern to the Jamestown Prevention Coalition (formerly the Jamestown Substance Abuse Prevention Task Force), a 20-year-old organization that addresses issues related to substance abuse. The organization “strives to promote a safe and car- ing community in which everyone in Jamestown can enjoy life without the harmful effects from the misuse of alcohol, tobacco and other drugs.”

Laura Hosley, who is temporarily coordinating the coalition’s efforts while Stephanie Nocon is on maternity leave, was informed that certain items were being legally sold at the Xtra Mart on Narragansett Avenue that could be used for the consumption of illegal drugs. Among the items were glass pipes, which are sold legally at stores throughout Rhode Island, as nearby as across the Newport-Pell Bridge.

The coalition scheduled a meeting, and Xtra Mart owner Ali Muhajir was in attendance. According to Hosley, Muhajir contended that the sales were legal, and that he informed all purchasers that the items were to be used only for tobacco. Teddy Hebert of the Jamestown Police Department also attended the meeting. Hebert made it clear that the products were not used solely for tobacco.

“One of the things that I explained to him was how Tim Baker [of Baker’s Pharmacy] had decided 20 years ago to stop selling tobacco products in his pharmacy and he became a star in people’s eyes,” Hosley said.

“Everywhere in the United States, stores have this stuff,” Muhajir said. “The products are not illegal.”

“I told him that it was his decision on whether to sell these products, but how Jamestown’s citizens looked at him and his business would be impacted by decisions he made,” Hosley said. “We didn’t solve the problem right there, but I think it helped.”

Nick Robertson is the owner of the building that houses the Xtra Mart. When it was brought to his attention that the items were being sold in the store, Robertson called the business owner, who is a franchisee of Xtra Mart. He said that it might be a good idea to remove the offending items from the shelves of the store.

According to Robertson, the owner agreed that the items might be in bad taste, but said that the sales were legal and that he made more money on the sale of the items than he did on the sale of Hostess cupcakes.

“I told them that I didn’t think that this is the thing to be doing, that they should give it some serious thought,” Robertson said.

Robertson followed up by visiting the store to speak with the father and son who operate the business. The owners explained that they were having difficulties trying to stay afloat in these harsh economic times. Robertson suggested that they consider other items to sell that might make up for the loss of income from the offending items.

“I said when you look at the overall picture, I think you’re going to find that there are better products to sell than that one,” Robertson said. “I told them I would be happy to sit down with them to talk about what products they might be able to sell. I left it like that.”

When Robertson received a call saying that the items were still being sold, he called the corporate offices of Xtra Mart, the company that leases the store from him. “I called the area manager and let her know what was going on,” Robertson said.

Since then, Muhajir has voluntarily removed the products from his store.

“We removed the products because society doesn’t like them, not because we had to,” Muhajir said. “If it was illegal, we wouldn’t bring it here. They are pipes for tobacco. Like the cell phone, you can use them for good things, or for bad things. We’ve already removed them.”

Despite the resolution of this one issue, there are other related problems that the coalition is monitoring. “Synthetic marijuana is up and coming,” Hosley said. “It is now the number two most used drug by teenagers after regular marijuana. It’s being sold legally, so that’s one of the issues we were concerned about.”

According to Hosley, synthetic marijuana is being sold as potpourri and incense. “It’s in a bag and it looks just like marijuana,” she said.

Hosley said that the coalition has been keeping an eye on Jamestown to make sure that they couldn’t find synthetic marijuana on island. “We don’t want it to be available to the kids,” she said. (Carlino said that along with marijuana, prescription pills are the most abused drug in Jamestown.)

Emerging tobacco products are also of concern to the coalition. These are products that contain nicotine but are not in the form of cigarettes. Small pouches of tobacco, toothpicks, and Tic Tac-like candies are among the new products that contain nicotine.

“The tobacco companies are finding ways to put nicotine in products that are innocuous so that they can kind of slide them in and get kids hooked,” Hosley said. “That’s their market. They need replacement smokers. It’s just getting sneakier. To stay on top of this stuff is pretty tough because most people don’t realize that these products are out there.”

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