Pubdate: Mon, 13 Jul 2015
Source: Washington Times (DC)
Copyright: 2015 The Washington Times, LLC.
Author: Andrea Noble


The District's mayor has signed into law harsh new penalties for 
stores found selling synthetic marijuana in order to prevent an 
epidemic from taking hold in nation's capital the way crack cocaine 
once held D.C. streets hostage.

The law grants Metropolitan Police Chief Cathy L. Lanier immediate 
authority to shutter businesses found selling synthetic marijuana for 
up to 96 hours and gives the mayor authority to fine businesses $10,000.

"We don't want to go back to the crack cocaine days of what happens 
when people are addicted to dangerous drugs," said Chief Lanier after 
D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser signed the bill into law Friday.

Officials declined to say how they will target stores for 
enforcement, but they have identified some problem businesses and 
seemed ready to put the new laws to the test as soon as possible.

"The law goes into effect just now, a couple of minutes ago," Ms. 
Bowser said Friday when she was asked if police would be enforcing 
the new law over the weekend.

A series of large-scale overdoses and possible linkage of synthetic 
drug use to a high-profile homicide on a Metro train have brought the 
issue to the forefront of concern for city residents, though law 
enforcement has been aware of the creeping use of the drugs for some time.

The new law also has highlighted how the Metropolitan Police 
Department and other city agencies have been stymied in attempts to 
crack down on synthetic drug use in the past.

Assistant Police Chief Peter Newsham said Friday that while it is 
illegal to possess synthetic marijuana, the department has had 
trouble bringing charges against individuals found selling or 
possessing the drugs because of an inability to quickly test the substances.

"What we are running into now is the cases are being no-papered by 
the U.S. Attorney's office," Chief Newsham said, noting that the Drug 
Enforcement Administration currently tests seized substances for the 
police department. "But if we can establish through testing that the 
synthetic cannabinoids exist in what we seize then we can go back and 
charge them."

The office of Acting U.S. Attorney Vincent Cohen issued a statement: 
"The formulas of the synthetic drugs are constantly being changed to 
stay a step ahead of law enforcement. We have worked with the 
District in recent years to ensure that our laws keep up with the new 
chemical compounds being used in these drugs.

"Because the chemicals used in these drugs are constantly changing, 
and because there is no reliable means of testing those drugs in the 
field, we cannot sustain charges in these cases until laboratory 
testing of the compounds is completed," the U.S. Attorney's Office 
said in an email. "When that testing shows that the compound at issue 
is banned by D.C. law, we prosecute the store owners and employees 
who are peddling these illegal substances."

The law, passed as emergency legislation by the D.C. Council, 
requires any business caught selling synthetic drugs to detail plans 
to avoid selling the drug in the future and to file those with the 
Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs.

If a business is found selling the drug a second time it can face an 
additional fine of $20,000 and could be shuttered for up to 30 days. 
The law also gives the mayor authority to keep the business closed 
until the assessed fines are paid.

Officials stressed the dangers that the drugs pose, not only to users 
who often become disoriented, but to others around them as users have 
also been known to become violent when under the influence.

"Profits can't come before lives," Chief Lanier said.
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MAP posted-by: Jay Bergstrom