Pubdate: Sun, 12 Jul 2015
Source: Washington Post (DC)
Copyright: 2015 The Washington Post Company


A New D.C. Law Gives Police the Means to Combat Dangerous Substances.

NEARLY A dozen people were rushed to the hospital after a mass drug 
overdose at a D.C. homeless shelter last month. A woman was accused 
of abandoning a 10-month-old baby on a busy D.C. street. A seemingly 
crazed 18-year-old allegedly stabbed to death a man on a Metro train 
July 4. Authorities say the common denominator in these incidents was 
the use of synthetic drugs. Emergency legislation to deal with the 
rising use of the dangerous substances comes none too soon.

Mayor Muriel E. Bowser (D) on Friday signed into law a measure that 
aims to combat the use of these drugs by cracking down on the 
businesses that trade in them. The drugs - smokable herbal products 
coated with chemicals that mimic the active ingredient in marijuana - 
are marketed under names such as Scooby Snax or K2 and can be found 
at liquor and convenience stores and gas stations. Popular with young 
people, their appeal has spread to vulnerable populations such as the 
homeless, and abuse is fast becoming a national problem.

Those who design the drugs change the chemical composition to 
confound Drug Enforcement Administration and local regulations even 
as governments try modifying their standards to keep up. The 
District's law, which goes into effect immediately, follows the model 
used by the city in going after sellers of stolen electronic goods 
and in policing clubs with liquor licenses.

Police will now have the authority to shut down a store that sells 
banned products for up to 96 hours for a first offense, with a 
$10,000 fine, and shut down repeat offenders for up to 30 days with a 
$20,000 fine while the Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs 
moves to permanently revoke the business's license. The law avoids 
the need for testing of chemical compositions by using an 
administrative, not criminal, process and employing the department's 
definitions of synthetic drugs. Included are products not suitable 
for the use they are marketed for (powders marketed as glass 
cleaners) or with atypical labeling ("100 percent legal") or with 
prices out of line for the product's use.

The law is being accompanied by other changes. Health department 
officials are stepping up data collection from hospitals and police 
are replacing vice squads with specialized units more agile in 
investigating the new modes of drug distribution, both online and on 
the ground. Memories of the crack cocaine violence of the 1990s have 
not faded in Washington; city officials are right to be proactive in 
their approach.
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MAP posted-by: Jay Bergstrom