Frederick, Md. bans sale, use of synthetic drug Spice

A Frederick shop reacts to the ban on Spice. Photo: Kimberly Suiters/WJLA

They cheered in Frederick's City Hall Thursday night as the city Aldermen voted unanimously to make spice, a synthetic drug sold in at least six stores in Frederick, illegal.

But a few blocks away at Classic Cigars, spice users lined up to buy the last packets until 2 in the morning, and they came looking for it all day Friday.

At 10 a.m. Friday, the mayor signed the ban into law, and the so-called designer drug that falls under 200 or so brand names, from K2 to Zombie World, seemed to have disappeared from store shelves.

That did not stop customers from asking for it. One after the next, Classic Cigars & British Goodies' store manager Liz Omenhiser turned away more than 150 customers looking for their old spice, so to speak.

"It sucks. We knew it was coming but not this fast. It's 50 percent of our business. We may have to lay people off and that breaks my heart."

Omenhiser believes the new law will create a "huge" black market in Frederick and a surge in buying the dangerous chemicals online.

Jonathan Stilton, who stopped in the store to find the spice display empty, said the synthetic drug steered kids away from hard core illegal drugs.

"I think the ban is stupid. It kept a lot of people out of trouble, kept more people out of jail."

Now anyone selling spice -or using it - can be jailed or fined $1,000 per violation.

When customers asked Omenhiser where they might still find spice, she directed them to the gas station, conveniently located across from the hospital.

At the BP station, an EMT filling up her tank told ABC7, getting spice off the street was essential. She said the effects of the drug, which is sometimes described as synthetic marijuana, are far worse than real marijuana.

The BP store clerk told disappointed customers who were looking for spice to come back in the evening and speak with the owner.

Frederick Police Chief Kim Dine said letters were sent to the BP gas station and five other area businesses a few months ago, warning them that spice products may be illegal. He was looking for voluntary compliance, but at the time, his officers had no enforcement power. When business owners and concerned parents complained to police, their hands were tied.

"This is a relief for our entire community. Parents have been scared because they don't know what's in the stuff," said Chief Dine.

Penalties go beyond arrests and fines. Businesses violating the spice ban can lose their liquor licenses and their right to sell lottery tickets.

Spice had been declared a public health emergency by Frederick's mayor, Randy McClement. The mayor said he is now counting on a city free of designer drugs.

"One of things, and there's no nice way to say it, is that people would get sick and violently throw up right on city streets and at the doors of businesses. Between the police response, the hospitals, the schools, and the businesses, it was a drain on city resources, the economy, and the citizens."

In other shops on Market Street, at the toy store, the eyeglass store and the tea shop, merchants and customers were celebrating.

"We are so happy!"

Nurse Maureen Housman and her friend made a point to congratulate the owner of Voila, a specialty tea shop a few doors down from where spice was sold.

"It was sad that people could sit on her stoop, roll their spice cigarettes, act crazy, and get high. And now they can't!" exclaimed Housman. "People were going psychotic. That scares me. I can't believe the government isn't acting faster acting faster to ban this stuff."

Both Chief Dine and Mayor McClement said great efforts were made to work with the Frederick County State's Attorney to write a law that would hold up in court. They are hoping the city ban gets the attention of the state legislature which could choose to extend the ban of spice to the entire state. Ocean City and Thurmont are the only other cities in Maryland that consider spice illegal.

Back on Market Street, Visions' shop co-owner Meline Baron talked to customers about how delighted she was to see spice shut down.

"Somebody said it would look like a methadone clinic every morning out here. It ran counter to the charm of Frederick. And just in time for First Saturday. What a gift!"

The first Saturday of each month, downtown businesses open their doors and treat customers to store samples.

At Classic Cigars, employees embittered about the ban on spice posted hand-written neon signs inviting customers to taste their new "spiced" cider.