New Penalties for Selling Synthetic Drugs in D.C.

D.C. now has new ways to crack down on businesses that sell synthetic drugs.

Now, police will have the authority to shut down for 96 hours any business caught selling the potent hallucinogens, which are often branded as K2, Scooby Snax, Bizarro or Spice. They're sold on the street, but also in some corner stores, liquor stores and gas stations.

Also, any business caught selling the drugs will be fined $10,000 for the first offense -- and can lose its business license if caught a second time.

The new punishments were part of emergency legislation signed by D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser Friday. The law follows two high-profile crimes in one week in which police believe the suspects may have been using synthetic drugs.

In the first, a young man who had been in college just a year ago stabbed a passenger on a Metro train 30 to 40 times. In the second, a woman abandoned a baby in a stroller alongside a busy D.C. street.

These drugs can cause severely altered mental state, anxiety, paranoia, irregular heartbeat, seizures and death.

"We have to get our heads together and figure out a way that we can make this an enforceable statute, before this drug ravages our communities," said D.C. Police Chief Cathy Lanier, the evening before the bill was signed.

"I truly feel like if we don't get a handle on the synthetic cannabinoids now, we are in danger of going back 20 years," Lanier said. "And we don't want that."

Earlier this month, Deputy Mayor for Public Safety Kevin Donahue attributed a recent spike in crime in D.C. in part to the use of synthetic drugs. "We know that when we arrest people for violent crimes, almost 40 percent have synthetic drugs in their system," he said.

The suspect who police say stabbed a former Congressional intern aboard a Metro train July 4 may have been high on synthetic drugs, police sources told the Washington Post. The suspect punched his victim repeatedly, stabbed him 30 to 40 times and threw a cell phone at him.

That same suspect, 18-year-old Jasper Spires, had been arrested days before the stabbing when he grabbed a man's neck in Friendship Heights and demanded money.

Tuesday, a woman was arrested when she left a baby in a stroller unattended on E Street northwest. Police found a hollowed-out cigar on her, and they believe she left the baby alone so she could smoke K2. 

LaTonya Cooper, 24, was charged with child cruelty.

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