Carla Brotherton behind the counter of her ice cream parlor 20 Below.
PLATTSBURGH — Carla Brotherton opened This and That in Plattsburgh 26 years ago.
It is a smoke shop and a legitimate business, she said, standing behind the counter as customers walked through the store.
Yet the New York State Attorney General’s office filed lawsuits against it, and the neighboring ice cream parlor she owns called 20 Below. The lawsuit claims the businesses violated the state’s labeling laws by selling designer drugs.
“It is ridiculous,” Brotherton said.
She doesn’t know what the lawsuit will do to her business, called some of the allegations against her businesses lies, showed proof of other local business selling the same items yet not being targeted and called for more personal responsibility.
Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman filed 12 lawsuits across the state against 16 businesses, which he referred to as “head shops,” for violating the state’s labeling laws by selling designer drugs, including commonly known synthetics such as bath salts and synthetic marijuana.
He said an undercover investigation revealed employees of This and That and 20 Below were selling the synthetic drugs.
“The proliferation of illegal synthetic drugs has become a national crisis,” Schneiderman said. “We discovered that head shop employees were giving tutorials on how to use dangerous intoxicants.”
The undercover video investigation discovered some head shops were labeling the products with misleading names and marketing them as incense, butterfly attractant, glass cleaner, potpourris, sachets and dietary supplements. Some products had no label and most lacked comprehensive ingredient listings.
Federal and state laws and regulations require that all consumer commodities, at a minimum, be labeled to describe net contents, identity of the product, and the name and place of business of the product’s manufacturer, packer, and distributor.
The lawsuits further pursue retailers for illegal sales of nitrous oxide to the public, a specific violation of the State Public Health Law. Nitrous oxide, commonly known as “Whip Its,” has been linked to several deaths by asphyxiation and other adverse health effects.
Schneiderman said a senior investigator from his office visited This and That and 20 Below and purchased a number of substances marketed as sachets or aroma under the names “Avalanche” and “Bizarro,” along with a device used for smoking the substances.
The agent also allegedly bought a case of nitrous oxide chargers along with the paraphernalia used to ingest the gas. The store clerk allegedly sold the investigator a “cracker” device used for breaking the seal on chargers of nitrous oxide, as well as a balloon to inhale the gas.
“This is all new to me,” said Brotherton.
She said she has never carried bath salts and never would. She also showed synthetic substances with no labeling purchased at a local Dollar Store.
She said she purchases the items she sells from a wholesaler and does not package them.
Her average customer is 30-80 and they are old enough to make choices in their lives, Brotherton said.
“My intent is never to harm,” she said. “When does it stop? Where does it stop?”
She has complied with Schneiderman’s office.
“Now I just wait and see.”
Investigators entered each store and captured the transactions and interactions with store personnel using undercover video.
The lawsuit seeks an immediate end to the sale of mislabeled drugs. It also seeks an accounting of all commodities sold or offered for sale, including the name of the product, the manufacturer and distributor, product description, retail price and number of units sold.