- The Washington Times - Friday, July 10, 2015

D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser signed into law Friday harsh new penalties for stores found selling synthetic marijuana as a means to prevent an epidemic from taking hold in nation’s capital the way crack cocaine once held city streets hostage.

The legislation grants D.C. 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 issue the business a $10,000 fine.

“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 the bill was signed into law Friday.

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

“The law goes into effect just now, a couple of minutes ago,” said Ms. Bowser when asked after she signed the bill if police would be out 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 has brought the issue to the forefront of concern for city residents, though law enforcement have been aware of the creeping use of the drugs for some time.

The enactment of the new law has also 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 MPD. “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 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.

• Andrea Noble can be reached at anoble@washingtontimes.com.

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