Pubdate: Tue, 16 Jun 2015
Source: Washington Post (DC)
Copyright: 2015 The Washington Post Company
Author: Abigail Hauslohner


D.C. Mayor Muriel E. Bowser vowed Monday to crack down hard on 
suppliers of synthetic drugs after a surge in overdoses sent dozens 
of people to area hospitals in the past month.

Bowser (D) plans to introduce emergency legislation this week that 
would give the D.C. police chief authority to shut down any business 
found selling the drugs for a period of 96 hours while police investigate.

The legislation would also institute a "two-strike rule," allowing 
the police chief to shut down two-time offenders for a period of up 
to 30 days, coupled with a $10,000 fine-five times as much as the 
current penalty. The District's Department of Consumer and Regulatory 
Affairs would then move to permanently revoke a store's license, 
Bowser said Monday at a news conference outside Sasha Bruce 
Youthwork, an organization that works with at-risk and homeless youths.

Speaking alongside Bowser, D.C. Police Chief Cathy L. Lanier said the 
new penalties would resonate with business owners in a way that 
previous measures have not.

"It's not the cost of doing business anymore," Lanier said. "You 
can't just sell it for cash and get a slap on the wrist, because a 
96hour shutdown is significant."

The drugs have also grown deadlier- a shift that the chief of the 
D.C. Department of Health, LaQuandra Nesbitt, said had spurred 
officials into action.

Officials have struggled for years to enforce the illegality of 
synthetic drug sales as manufacturers adjust rapidly to legislation 
and alter the chemical compositions of the drugs.

Newer incarnations of the drugs - previously referred to as 
"synthetic marijuana" for their mimicking of marijuana's effects - 
produce symptoms that more closely resemble the hallucinogen PCP, 
officials said.

"When synthetic marijuana hit the market, it was more likely to make 
you euphoric. Nowit's making you more likely to be psychotic or 
hallucinate," Nesbitt said at the news conference.

Lanier said that shift has caused some users to behave violently.

"We have had homicides that were carried out by persons high on those 
synthetic drugs and didn't recall what happened," Lanier said.

The drugs can be found at liquor stores or gas stations, marketed 
under names such as Scooby Snax or K2, and they are primarily used by 
young people, officials said.

"Synthetic drugs: Don't be fooled by the names they're marketed by, 
and don't be fooled by people calling it an equivalent to marijuana," 
said Bowser, who said the drugs represented "a clear and present 
danger to the public."

The legislation is one of a couple of new measures that city 
officials announced in recent days to mark a shift in the District's 
approach to fighting crime, and specifically drugs, in a changing environment.

Last week, the police department said it was dissolving its 
seven-member vice squads and instituting a centralized narcotics and 
special investigations unit in their place. A second group, a 
criminal interdiction unit, which started work Monday, will work in 
coordination with the central unit to go after suppliers on the ground.

At Monday's news conference, officials said the strategy shift 
reflected a reality on D.C. streets, where drug dealers have moved 
away from the open-air drug markets that characterized the crack 
epidemic of the 1980s and '90s, and into a more sophisticated trade 
of synthetic drugs via licensed retailers and the Internet.

D.C. Council member Yvette Alexander (D-Ward 7), who flanked Bowser 
with several other council members and city officials Monday, said 
sales of the drugs had become so "blatant" in Ward 7 that some 
residents might believe them to be legal.

Alexander said that she personally was able to purchase synthetic 
drugs from a local store. But she promised that that was about to change.

"I'm giving fair warning to my businesses in Ward 7: I'm coming down 
to get you. And I'm going to send the chief out, because I know where 
you are," she said.

Freshman council member LaRuby May (D-Ward 8), a Bowser ally, echoed 
Alexander's threats, telling business owners in her ward: "We're 
going to shut you down. We're going to make sure you no longer exist.

"If you don't want to be a good neighbor, if you don't want to be a 
good business in Ward 8, then you should start looking in the county 
or somewhere else," May said.

On Monday, Bowser also said the Health Department was working to set 
up a system through which hospitals can be prepared to test patients 
showing symptoms of synthetic drug use and report synthetic 
drug-related emergency room visits to the police.

"This will allow us to know exactly what materials manufacturers are 
including in these lab manufactured drugs," she said.
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MAP posted-by: Jay Bergstrom