D.C. Mayor Vincent Gray endorsed strengthening the city's 31-year-old drug paraphernalia law during a combined Ward 7 and Ward 8 community forum about sales of paraphernalia and synthetic drugs.
“I would be happy to expand the law to make it more enforceable,” said Gray, 70, at the July 11 forum in St. Elizabeth’s Hospital auditorium in Southeast.
Gray told the audience of nearly 250 that during the D.C. Council’s two-month recess, he will work with appropriate District agencies on tougher penalties against businesses selling materials used for manufacturing and ingesting drugs. Gray was responding to an audience member’s statement that the District must instantly suspend or revoke such businesses’ licenses.
D.C. Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs Director Nicholas Majett, a forum panelist, said businesses are entitled to due process. “You have to be able to prove that they are selling synthetic drugs or drug paraphernalia,” he said.
Ryan Springer, deputy director of the D.C. Department of Health’s Addiction Prevention and Recovery Administration, said his and other agencies face numerous challenges. “There are international cartels with tons of money to send (drug manufacturing) materials into the U.S. They even have websites teaching young people how to make and use the drugs ‘safely.’”
“There are 100-plus ingredients in these drugs and only five or six of them are considered illegal,” added Springer. “The ingredients are changed from month to month.”
Panelist Peter Cho of the Korean American Grocers Association of Washington, D.C. (KAGRO-DC), operates a grocery near the Anacostia Metro station. To loud applause, he said he does not sell synthetic drugs or paraphernalia. “As you know, there is always one individual who refuses to cooperate (and sells these items),” he said, but KAGRO-DC, the police and the courts will make them adhere to the law.
“What I want to know is who’s going to go after the synthetic drug companies who teach young people how to make the drugs on the Internet?” Cho asked.
Metropolitan Police Department Commander Melvin Scott of the Narcotics and Special Investigations Division (NSID) said that three business owners on Martin Luther King, Jr. Avenue in Southeast were recently arrested for selling drug paraphernalia. Scott said he depends on community residents to identify businesses breaking the law. “NSID has a text number, 50411, which people can use to notify us anonymously,” he said.
Pho Palmer, 46, the advisory neighborhood commissioner for 8C07 (Congress Heights) said the evening’s forum resulted from an incident at a May town hall about health sponsored by United Medical Center in Ward 8’s Turner Elementary School. A woman interrupted that meeting pleading for help with her son, who smoked “Scooby Snacks,” or synthetic marijuana.
In a hallway outside the meeting, the woman, sobbing, told Palmer that her son, formerly a good student at Ballou Senior High School, behaved strangely since smoking the drug; he kicked out a window screen in their home and jumped out, landing two stories down.
Similar accounts convinced Palmer that synthetic drugs are approaching crisis status among Wards 7 and 8 young people.
Determined to find solutions, Palmer called Philip Pannell of the Anacostia Coordinating Council and the Congress Heights Civic Association. Pannell suggested leaders from various local government and community health, drug prevention and law enforcement agencies as forum participants. Rosalind Parker, Esq., 44, director of the District of Columbia Prevention Center for Wards 7 and 8, coordinated the event.
Panelist Dionne Reeder, 42, a Ward 8 resident active in the District of Columbia Prevention Center for Wards 7 and 8 and the Far Southeast Family Strengthening Collaborative, Inc., said not all youth in these wards are abusing synthetic drugs. “The time that’s invested in them is what makes the difference. We have to educate them, spend time with them, and invest in them. These are our future leaders.”
Reeder said her agencies see teens daily. “I may be the one person who stands between their talking to me and gettinghigh.”
The forum’s youngest panelist, Chaquan Barbett, 15, a Ward 8 resident and Cesar Chavez Charter School student, shared a story with the audience.
“When one of my friends smoked Scooby Snacks, it made him feel like he was about to die. I don’t use it. I’m an athlete. I play basketball. I’ve seen what it does to my friends.”
Parker announced that additional forums on these issues will be held this year. The event was videotaped by District of Columbia Cable Network, which will air it in the coming weeks.