Congresswoman Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-D.C.) has joined forces with the D.C. Council to stop the sale of a legal, yet lethal synthetic drug that's gaining popularity among District youth.
K2 also known as "Spice" is a psychoactive designer drug. It's a mixture of herbs, spices and shredded plant material sprayed with synthetic chemicals that, when used, allegedly mimics the effects of marijuana. It is illegal in 39 states, including Virginia – it's legal in the District, but not for long, if Norton has anything to say about it.
"With effects that have been compared to LSD, our city must not let synthetic marijuana use increase," said Norton, 75.
She received a boost from the D.C. Council on Dec. 4 when it passed a bill, authored by D.C. Council Chairman Phil Mendelson that would ban the sale of the substance in the city.
The movement toward banning K2 gathered steam when Norton convened a hearing of her Commission on Black Men and Boys entitled, "Synthetic Marijuana: Real Drug, Real Consequences" on Nov. 27 at the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Library in Northwest with 60 people in attendance.
Charles Dark, the director of the D.C. Prevention Center for Ward 5 and 6 in Northeast, said that K2 usage is getting worse and it's easy to get.
"I have purchased synthetic marijuana from an Exxon gas station," said Dark, 41. "It's a pretty easy transaction. D.C. Prevention knows that a lot of these vendors are selling this stuff to underage youth."
Dark said that he has been to a few gas stations in the District and noticed that the establishments that sell the drug tend to be closer to lower-income black neighborhoods.
"I've spoken to men of all ages who have tried this drug," he said. "They are mixing it with their marijuana to stretch the marijuana they do have or if they don't have money to buy marijuana [illegally]. The youth seem to know which stores have it and those that don't have it."
Dark said that his organization has been tracking K2 usage since 2008 and saw its usage increase in 2010 and 2011. He said that youth involved in the juvenile justice system have told him that many children use K2 as a way to avoid failing mandatory court-ordered drug tests.
"If you look at how this stuff is packaged, it's clearly packaged to entice a young person to want to buy it," Dark said.
In her remarks, Norton said that the average age of a K2 user was 13.5 years-old.
Alphonso Coles, a men's health activist in Ward 7, said that police officers don't deal with K2 users.
"The police don't even bother speaking with or stopping anyone from smoking K2," said Coles, 55. "K2 poses major health risks to people who smoke it and the community needs to rally together to demand that the sale of K2 in their neighborhood stop."
Norton, Coles and 38 activists protested the sale of K2 at an Exxon station in Northeast on Dec. 4. Coles said that Norton went in to speak with the manager of the station and demanded that he stop selling the drug.
Coles said that the manager complied and that letters will be sent to the franchise owner of the station, Joe Mamo, and the Ethiopian business community, on the dangers of the drug and why they shouldn't sell it.
Norton agrees with Coles and said that there needs to be a community conversation about K2.
"It needs discussion not only among kids but it needs discussion in schools and with families," the delegate said. "Kids need to educate their parents. And above all, it needs public discussion."
WI Staff Writer Elton Hayes contributed to this story.