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Three local head shops, citing threats of violence, close doors

February 29th, 2012 2:11 pm by Rain Smith

The owners of head shops in Bloomingdale, Bristol and Johnson City have shut their doors effective immediately, citing threats of violence from protesters of synthetic drugs.

Todd Cartwright, owner of White Cloud Emporium in Bloomingdale, says the decision was made Tuesday night by him and his business partner. The other individual, who Cartwright declined to identify due to alleged death threats against them, operates Cloud 9 Emporium shops on both State Street in Bristol, Tenn., and West Oakland Ave. in Johnson City.

As of 4 p.m. Wednesday Ultimate Smoke on East Center Street in Kingsport, which typically opens at 11 a.m., also remained shuttered. Attempts to contact owner Jason Catoe were not successful. On Tuesday night he was cited by police for allegedly possessing and selling K2 or Spice containing chemicals banned in Tennessee.

Cartwright says employees of his businesses have been subjected to threats from demonstrators, who have stationed outside the shops multiple times over the past week. Some of those individuals, who Cartwright called, "those peaceful Christian protesters," have even allegedly shown up at his and his employees' homes.

"When we're dealing with 200 people, and half of those want to kill's time to give up my efforts," said Cartwright.

While business operations at the shops may have been abandoned, Cartwright vowed that the legal battle is just beginning. He is one of several area business owners who have filed a lawsuit in U.S. District Court, seeking to have banning ordinances declared unconstitutional.

And now, according to Cartwright, a second lawsuit will be filed, specifically against police in Kingsport and Bristol, Tenn. Carwright said the departments' recent saturation efforts in the vicinity of head shops is a "very dangerous witch hunt." He claims his customers have been profiled and harassed, while his constitutional right to run a business has been violated.

Police report their efforts are a response to hikes in crime, traffic crashes and other disturbances in the area of the businesses.

"Bull crap," responds Cartwright, adding his shops have been collecting video evidence of "police misconduct" outside the businesses.

"When we walk out (of court) with Bristol and Kingsport, and half their police operating budget, at the end of the day, we'll have the last laugh."

Cartwright hopes the case can be heard outside the state of Tennessee. And when a judge rules in his and his associates' favor, according to Cartwright, all the shops will be reopened.

He has previously appeared before the Kingsport Board of Mayor and Alderman. He spoke out against the city ordinance which ultimately passed, allowing police to write citations to those possessing or selling synthetic drugs.

"My reaction is ‘hallelujah’" said Mayor Dennis Phillips. "Any time one of these stores closes, as long as it’s a closure and not a relocation. The true closures of these stores is what it’s going to eventually take."

Phillips said he does not have first hand knowledge of police harassing anyone at the "head shops," but rather putting pressure on people to do the right thing and stop selling synthetic drugs.

"I have no problem with it," Phillips said. "I think they should push everything they possibly can to the limit. If it’s considered harassment by the shop owner, then so be it."

He added that Kingsport is prepared to defend the federal lawsuit and feels very comfortable they will prevail.

Staff writer Matthew Lane contrinuted to this report.

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