Eleanor Holmes Norton, congresswoman of action

December 6, 2012

Behold the contraband (@EleanorNorton)

Eleanor Holmes Norton, the District’s congressional delegate, has been on a bit of a crusade against so-called “synthetic marijuana” of late. The crusade arrived Wednesday at a Benning Road gas station, resulting in a pair of remarkable news releases describing the events thereat.

I could shorten and summarize the releases, but they deserve to be read in their native Eleanorese. From Wednesday:

WASHINGTON, D.C. – During a community protest at an Exxon station located at 2652 Benning Rd. NE (between Anacostia Ave. and Oklahoma Ave. NE), and across from Spingarn High School, Congresswoman Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-DC) walked over to the business, owned by Mohammad B. Arif, and spoke with the manager, Malik, and got from him a promise to cease selling synthetic marijuana, also known as K2, in any form, and to discard what he had on hand.

A resident tried to purchase K2 at the station before the protest, and was told by the manager they do not sell it, but just before the protest, a member of Norton’s staff succeeded in purchasing two packages of K2, labeled “Scooby Snax”, at $10 each.  Norton showed the brightly-colored packages to the manager, who in turn produced a list of jurisdictions that banned K2.  The District of Columbia was not on that list because the city is still going through the process of strengthening its laws against the drug.  The Congresswoman informed the manager that the federal government had already barred the sale of K2, and President Obama signed that bill into law in July.  Norton noted the proximity of the station to Spingarn High School, Phelps High School, and River Terrace Elementary, and asked the owner for his word that he would no longer sell K2 in any of its forms.  Norton made clear that his compliance would be tested by the community.  He not only gave Norton his word, but also his business card, and said he welcomed members of the community to verify his compliance going forward.  Norton said she was satisfied with the owner’s promise, coupled with the commitment she obtained from community members attending the protest, who pledged to check on the Exxon station periodically for the sale of K2.  The Congresswoman expects the D.C. Council to pass its K2 ban this session and hopes the city will give wide publicity to corner stores, gas stations and other businesses that have been selling various forms of K2.

From Thursday:

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Congresswoman Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-DC) thanked the D.C. Council for passing a law banning synthetic marijuana, or K2, on Tuesday, the same day she visited a protest in front of an Exxon station near Springarn High School in Northeast, and got an agreement from the gas station’s manager to stop selling the drug.  Norton said that the Council’s passage of the K2 ban removes any doubt – or excuse – about selling the drug.  The Exxon manager with whom Norton spoke said he was relying on a list of 39 jurisdictions that had banned the substance, which he got from the Internet.  D.C. was not on that list because, at the time, the Council had not passed its ban.  But Norton told him that a federal law strengthening the laws against such synthetic substances had been signed into law by President Obama in July.

The Congresswoman said the point of the Council passing the bill is not to jail teenagers who are often drawn to the colorful packaging and names like “Scooby Snax”, which are meant to increase the drug’s appeal to them. “The primary purpose of the law is to stop the sale of K2 to kids as young as 13 at gas stations, corner stores, and other locations,” Norton said.  “As long as K2 was legal to buy and sell under District law, many of the city’s most vulnerable young people were in danger of the many effects of the drug, which have been compared to LSD and have caused psychotic episodes or other serious problems that are sending youngsters to emergency rooms.

Norton said that the way to protect young people is for the city to now publicize that the drug is now illegal under local and federal law for a reason – its harmful effects – and to use media that young people use, like Facebook, to explain those effects.

I spoke to Malik Malik, the manager who assured Norton he’d stop selling the “Scooby Snax.” He was fine with it, but said he was afraid of being at a competitive disadvantage: “I mean, on one hand, I can understand why she did it. On the other hand, is she going to stop the other stores from doing it, too?”

If you’re interested in the subject of synthetic marijuana and its legal status, also check out this Mother Jones item, which takes note of a new federal report on hospitalizations related to synthetic marijuana and makes this reasonable point:

The irony in all this, of course, is that synthetic marijuana only exists because of the federal prohibition on the real stuff. While smoking pot isn’t as benign as many advocates claim, particularly when used by teens, it’s still one of the safest recreational drugs. Synthetic pot, on the other hand, was largely unregulated in 2010 (as its still-legal derivatives still are), and because it only contains synthetic cannabinoids and not THC—the primary part of the cannabis plant that gets you high—it’s good for passing drug tests but provides a worse high with an elevated risk of adverse effects.

Mike DeBonis covers local politics and government for The Washington Post. He also writes a blog and a political analysis column that runs on Fridays.
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Mike DeBonis | December 6, 2012