A group of people opposed to the sale of synthetic marijuana, including Rep. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-D.C.), took their fight to the streets when they converged on a Northeast Washington gas station Dec. 4 to urge the owner to stop selling the substance.

The activists said they identified the Exxon station, located on Benning Road NE at the intersection of Oklahoma Avenue NE, after they saw a foil packet of the substance packaged as Scooby Snax taped to the window. Shortly after arriving, Norton (D) showed the protesters a
packet that one of her aides had purchased for $10 moments earlier.

Norton told them she was going to confront the employees who had sold it. “I want to know who is going in with me?” she asked. “We’ll all go!” said protester Frank Malone, founder of 100 Fathers, Inc., as others cheered and applauded.

After a brief meeting in the tiny gas station building, Norton emerged to say that an employee who identified himself as the person in charge had promised to stop selling the substance. The owner could not be reached.

“He has given me his word,” Norton said. “I shook on it. I told him the community is going to test you because they are up in arms about this. I pointed out and I called the names of the high schools and the elementary schools. He says he wants to cooperate.”

Synthetic marijuana, popularly called K2 in the Washington-Baltimore region, is made by combining a variety of herbs and plants and then spraying the mix with a chemical that produces effects similar to marijuana when it is smoked, experts said.

The substance, which is packaged under several names, including Scooby Snax and Aloha, became popular with teens because it could be purchased easily in convenience stores and on the Internet.

A federal law, named after David Mitchell Rozga, an Iowa youth who committed suicide after ingesting the substance, was signed into law by President Obama earlier this year.

Though the substance has been banned under federal law, Norton said, some business owners are under the mistaken impression that they can still sell it in some locales. The District does not appear on a list of jurisdictions that have prohibited it, Norton said.

“Please understand this is legal at the moment, at least in D.C.,” she said. “It’s illegal under federal law…This owner seems to have been basing his decision to sell on a list of states… that have barred the substance and the District of Columbia is not on it. It’s on its way to being on it. But as a matter of federal law, he should not be selling it.”

The Dec. 4 event was the second protest. The first took place on Nov. 3 in Edgewood in Northeast Washington. The “movement,” as organizers called it, was started by Al Coles, of 100 Fathers, Inc.

“We have come out here to support the fact that someone needs to speak up against what is being done to our children,” said Rev. Lennox Abrigo, a Laurel pastor and Washington, D.C. president for the National Action Network. “Our children are defenseless. Even though some of
them are doing this voluntarily, children need to be defended because children aren’t able to access the information.”

The mission of the protest was two-fold, Abrigo said. “We are asking our children to stop doing this and we are also asking the supplier to not do this anymore,” he said.

Charles A. Dark II, director of the District of Columbia Prevention Center on Maryland Avenue NE, said they are taking their message to businesses that have continued to sell the substance even as research shows its potential hazard. Some users report harmful side effects such as increased heart beat and blood pressure and the federal law was named for an Iowa youth who committed suicide after using the substance once.

“What is happening is that owners…have no vested interested in the community where they are selling this product, so at the end of the day, they get in their cars and go home and we have to deal with the implications of the product they are selling,” he said.

Tristan Wilkerson, 25, an intergovernmental affairs liaison in Norton’s office, said he was able to purchase a packet of K2 for $10, though an older activist who tried seconds earlier, was denied.
“He told him, ‘We don’t have K2. K2 is illegal,’” Wilkerson recalled. “Then I walked up. I said, ‘I’m not with him.’ I said, ‘Do you have any Scooby Snax or Aloha?’ He said, ‘We don’t have Aloha. We have Scooby Snax…I told him we have a deal.”

Norton said she warned the gas station employee that the community would respond if they continue to sell the substance.

“Spingarn High School is located cater-cornered across the street, Brown Elementary School is close by, Phelps is close by,” she said. “This is nothing…less than a school district. We are not going to let it be a K2 district as well.

A young man who drove into the station during the protest told a reporter that he had gone to buy package of Scooby Snax, but changed his mind after he read the protesters’ signs. He purchased a cigar instead. When asked what he planned to do with it, he said he planned to hollow it out and “put some weed in it.”

“They’re saying the other stuff is dangerous,” the young man said. “I know I shouldn’t be using that, but at least it ain’t, what’s the word? Synthetic.”

Avis Thomas-Lester

AFRO Executive Editor