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Mayor Bowser Announces Comprehensive Drug Enforcement Strategy

Monday, June 15, 2015

(Washington, DC) – Today, Mayor Muriel Bowser and the District's Public Safety and Health leadership held a press conference to announce a new comprehensive drug enforcement strategy. In the last decade, the District has seen a significant shift in the nature and tactics used to perpetrate violent crimes. The Bowser Administration has developed a comprehensive drug enforcement strategy to respond to the changing climate.  

"Far too many of our residents are still impacted by drug usage - whether because of drug sales occurring near their homes or because they or their family members suffer from drug addiction," said Mayor Bowser. "It is my duty to provide the safest and healthiest environment for our residents and visitors. We will do that by innovating and adapting, and providing our public safety officials with the tools they need to get the job done. We will also make sure healthcare professionals have the resources to help people get the treatment they need to fight and recover from drug usage."

Beginning this month, the Metropolitan Police Department (MPD) will have two new units that will utilize new strategies and tactics. The District will shift from seven individual vice units to one citywide drug unit under the MPD Narcotics and Special Investigations Division.  The second, the newly created Criminal Interdiction Unit (CIU), will be at the forefront on how law enforcement identifies and abates crime patterns, removes dangerous offenders, drugs, and illegal weapons from our neighborhoods, and drives down crime in our city.

"We will shift away from outdated tactics focused on low-level users and target the suppliers who feed dangerous narcotics into the communities," said Police Chief Cathy Lanier. "This new drug enforcement strategy gives law enforcement and regulatory agencies the ability to crack down on the very suppliers that are responsible for these troubling proliferations."

Part of the evolution in the drug market is the proliferation of synthetic drugs that have been found for sale at retail establishments in the District, including liquor stores and gas stations. Law enforcement and emergency responders have also seen a spike in overdoses related to synthetic drugs, commonly referred to as K2, Scooby Snax, Bizzaro and Spice. Synthetic drugs are potent and dangerous hallucinogen that can lead to death.

This week, Mayor Bowser will submit emergency legislation to the Council of the District of Columbia to significantly increase the penalties for selling synthetic drugs. The Sale of Synthetic Drugs Emergency Amendment Act of 2015 gives the Chief of Police the authority to close down a business found selling synthetic drugs for up to 96 hours.  This is very similar to existing law which allows the Chief to close down a liquor-licensed establishment for up to 96 hours if violence occurred at the bar or club.

This bill would also fine a business $10,000 for its first violation of selling synthetic drugs. And it would require the business to submit a remediation plan that clearly lays out how the business will prevent any recurrence of synthetic drugs being sold on its premises or by its employees. The bill also institutes a "Two strikes and you're out" rule: if a business is found to be selling synthetic drugs for a second time, the Chief of Police can shut it down for up to 30 days, it can be fined $20,000, and DCRA will move to permanently revoke its business license.

"It is in the best interest of residents and visitors to significantly increase penalties for any business found to be selling synthetic drugs," said Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs Director Melinda Bolling. "The 'Two strikes and you're out' rule is an important mechanism to rid our communities of these businesses who are knowingly profiting off these harmful drugs."

Mayor Bowser has charged the Department of Health (DOH) with implementing a syndromic surveillance system that will allow hospitals to report to the DOH when an individual arrives with a chief complaint of "synthetic drug use." Emergency Department (ED) doctors will work with the administration to increase surveillance through testing. Additionally, MPD and DCRA will work with the Office of the Chief Medical Examiner and the Department of Forensic Sciences to test materials that are confiscated.

DBH is collaborating with several DC agencies, including Fire and Emergency Medical Services Department to share data in real time, allowing the District to make informed policy decisions and encourage and support those who are ready to engage in treatment.

"We are working with our local health care facilities and health care providers to better identify patients who have used these synthetic drugs and ‎are also working to develop a strategy that will allow us to detect the harmful chemicals in these products," said Department of Health Director Dr. LaQuandra Nesbitt." 

Today's announcement was held at Sasha Bruce Youthwork, Department Behavioral Health and the Addiction Prevention and Recovery Administration (APRA)'s Ward 5 & 6 Prevention Center.