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Amid K2 Crisis, Dallas Might Regulate Head Shops Like Strip Clubs

The problem with K2 downtown, Dallas Police Chief David Brown said Monday, might be more than the drag on resources it causes for Dallas police and firefighters or the health threat it poses to the synthetic drug's often homeless users. The drug also could be responsible for an increase in aggressive panhandling, something that's driven numerous complaints from downtown residents, Brown told the City Council's Public Safety Committee.

“The panhandling community downtown is becoming more aggressive, and we think it’s related to the drug of choice,” Brown said, after calling the city's homeless a "captive audience" for a "dangerous, dangerous drug."

Those drugs of choice are synthetic cannabinoids, which are often identified as K2, a popular brand name for the drug. Synthetic cannabinoids, most of which are made in China, were initially conceived in labs as a way to mimic the high of marijuana. They quickly grew popular because they were once legal and didn't show up on drug screens. As synthetic cannabinoids caught on, lawmakers began to ban them, chemical formula by chemical formula, pushing makers to create chemical combinations with less predictable highs.

Now, downtown feels like the front line in a battle between Chinese chemists and the police department, which has stepped up enforcement in response to more than 200 K2 related calls Dallas Fire and Rescue has received since the beginning of December. Four arrests have been made by DPD for distribution, thanks in part to 2015's Texas Controlled Substances Act, which broadens the net of synthetic drugs for which cops can arrest dealers.

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Now, as outlined in briefing materials from DPD, the department is thinking about using the K2 outbreak in order to further regulate Dallas head shops. In 2014, Gas Pipe locations throughout North Texas were raided in the biggest ever federal bust for the sale and manufacture of synthetic cannabinoids. More recently, a bust at Up In Smoke Discount on Ewing Avenue in Oak Cliff netted 55 packets of synthetic cannabinoids.

Pointing to that bust, DPD is suggesting that head shops could be defined and regulated — much like strip clubs. DPD would regularly inspect the shops, and they would be forced to locate outside of "paraphernalia free zone," like 1,000-foot radii around churches and schools.

Brown will be back with members of Dallas Fire and Rescue for a combined K2 briefing at the committee's next meeting in two weeks. 

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