WASHINGTON (WUSA9) -- Mayor Muriel Bowser signed a bill aimed at tackling the synthetic drug problem in the District Friday. District officials say it's critical to get it in front of this growing problem that's leading to a spike in crime.
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The "Sale of Synthetic Drugs Emergency Amendment Act of 2015" will allow authorities to shut down a business for up to four days if the business is caught for the first time selling the drugs. The business can also face a fine of $10,000. The Metropolitan Police Department will also be allowed to shut down repeat offenders for up to 30 days and slap the store with a fine of $20,000.
"I have issued a fair warning to business owners who continue to sell and distribute these dangerous drugs" said Mayor Bowser. "The new law takes a 'two strikes and you're out' approach. Beginning today, any business that possesses synthetic drugs will face harsh penalties for the first offense and will lose their license after a second offense. I thank the Council for their swift action and residents from all eight wards for strongly supporting this legislation to crack down on the sale of these drugs."
Police Chief Cathy Lanier says this is not just a problem in the District but across the country and she is talking to mayors of other big cities to band together to fight it, "This drug is not only is dangerous to those who use it, it is dangerous to everybody else around them, and also, make no mistake about it, the people that are disproportionately affected by the use of this drug right now are those that are living in poverty."
Authorities in the District have seen a recent spike in synthetic drug overdoses and possibly some crimes which are linked to the usage of the drugs.
The U.S. Attorney's Office says, "Synthetic cannabinoids pose a danger to public health and safety, which is why the U.S. Attorney's Office has prioritized the prosecution of cases involving the distribution of those products."
The illegal products are potent hallucinogens and have been found at liquor stores and gas stations labeled as K2, Scooby Snax, Bizzaro, or Spice, according to authorities.
Consuming these products can cause the user to have a severely altered mental state, anxiety, paranoia, irregular heartbeat, seizures, and sometimes even death. Many liken this new wave of synthetic drug use to the crack epidemic of the late 1980s and early 1990s.
WUSA9 talked to Crime Museum Expert, Wyndell Watkins. He was the Deputy Chief of Police in the District in charge of Narcotics during the crack epidemic. He says timing is on the Districts side, "You've got to get in front of this thing. And the other thing they have got to do is keep up that whole enforcement package to make sure that it doesn't get out of control. "