District Digest: Legalize it, don’t criticize it

D.C. strengthens laws against synthetic marijuana

The D.C. Council voted Thursday to strengthen laws against synthetic forms of marijuana, weeks after some states voted to reduce penalties on the possession of natural marijuana. The drug is now classified as a Schedule 1 drug, along with GHB, a date rape drug, and various chemicals used to produce what is commonly known as bath salts, according to the Washington Post.

Council Chairman Phil Mendelson said the bill, which the Judiciary Committee approved, will help fight crime, as bath salts, for example, can make users violent. Mendelson said the synthetic form of marijuana is a greater health risk and that stronger penalties were needed.

“With regards to this legislation, there is a greater concern because there is less assurance what the ingredients are with synthetic drugs than the natural products,” Mendelson said to the Post. “A person can kill themselves on it… I am hopeful adding this to the list of controlled substances, we will contribute to its reduction.”

Mendelson believes the bill, which the full council will take an initial vote on next week, will get the “products off the market” while not increasing drug-related arrests. The bill also classifies Fospropofol, the drug linked to the death of Michael Jackson, as a Schedule 4 narcotic.

While the law does not change the status of natural marijuana in the District, Mendelson said there is a good argument for decriminalizing it, as it is a drug that “is widely used and that results in a lot of arrest records and not having an effect on violent crime.” He quickly added that he is not ready “to go there,” according to the Post.

Mendelson said that an attempt to decriminalize the drug in the District would be quickly overturned by Congress.

Special-needs preschooler left alone in bus

Two State Superintendent of Education employees were fired after forgetting a special-needs four-year-old in the back of a school bus for hours, according to The Washington Post. The incident reflects the city’s struggles as they begin to control the special-education buses after federal court supervision.

“This is an incident that is totally unacceptable and we want to make sure this never happens again,” Jennifer Lav, a University Legal Services lawyer who represents students with disabilities, wrote in an e-mail to The Washington Post.

Lav represents D.C. parents in a 1995 class action lawsuit that charged that D.C. failed to provide reliable transportation for students with disabilities. The suit led to federal oversight of the buses until earlier this month.

The judge agreed that the city had demonstrated an ability to provide safe and consisted service, setting a mid-December public hearing where the case is expected to be dismissed

“We are proud of our record,” said Hosanna Mahaley Jones, the District’s state superintendent of education, according to The Washington Post. “That one incident doesn’t define our workforce nor does it define our operations.”

The Washington Post reported that many advocates agree the city has bettered the busing system, but believe there is more to fix. Some special education parents are still not satisfied, such as Trenise Stitt, mother of a nonverbal boy with autism. She was forced to take her 13-year-old son to school in a cab after improperly trained aides could not communicate with him and called police twice this month to deal with him.

“I can’t constantly keep shipping my son on the bus if you are going to call the police,” she said. The superintendent’s office plans to provide Stitt with alternate transportation and take “unspecified personnel actions” today, according to The Washington Post.

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