Residents of the small Frederick County community of Araby are concerned about a local business selling synthetic drugs as state lawmakers consider introducing emergency legislation to ban the substances.
Araby residents cheered the news at a community meeting Saturday that the owners of the store had been served with an eviction notice earlier that day and were required to vacate the location by Tuesday.
Meanwhile, local lawmakers prepared to make a push to outlaw the synthetic drugs statewide, or, if that fails, to ban them just in Frederick County.
The drugs, which are synthetic cannabinoids that can mimic the effects of tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC, the active ingredient in marijuana, are known as “spice,” K2, Genie and a host of other names.
They recently were outlawed in Frederick and Thurmont, and Walkersville officials were expected to vote Wednesday on whether to ban the substances.
Blaine R. Young (R), president of the Frederick County Board of Commissioners, attended the Araby meeting Saturday to explain how county and state officials are working to ban the drugs on a wider scale.
Officials feared that when county municipalities began banning spice, it only was a matter of time until the businesses selling it moved out into the unincorporated areas of the county, Young said.
When a new store opened recently on Araby Church Road, residents said they didn’t know what it was selling until reading about it in a story in The Gazette on Dec. 6.
Araby resident Mike Powell said he is hopeful the county and state can find a way to nip the problem in the bud.
The community — located off of Md. 355 between Frederick and Urbana — is very close-knit, with many residents having lived there a long time, Powell said.
Resident Mike Ausherman said they don’t want something in the community that will bring in the “wrong element.”
“We just don’t want drug use in the community,” Ausherman said.
Young said the store’s owners had told the property owner, Dave Schaefer, they would be selling wholesale tobacco from the site in the 4700 block of Araby Church Road.
Schaefer declined to speak with reporters but told the approximately 50 residents at the meeting that he had owned the property for 30 years and always had tried to be a good neighbor.
He said he called his attorney after finding out about the issue to discuss what his options were, and had informed the store’s owner, Joe Cohen, that his lease would be terminated because he was selling different merchandise than expected.
Cohen also is the owner of Classic Cigars and British Goodies on North Market Street in Frederick, which also had sold spice until the city banned it in November. A sign posted outside Tuesday listed the store as for sale
The lease for the Araby Church Road store was signed Nov. 27, Young said.
It was unclear Wednesday morning whether the Araby store was still open.
Both Young and Roy Taylor, who organized the meeting of Araby residents, said Wednesday that it was their understanding that the store would close.
But Frederick County Sheriff’s Office spokeswoman Cpl. Jennifer Bailey said Wednesday that as far as Sheriff Chuck Jenkins (R) knew, the business was still open.
Cohen did not return several calls for comment.
The sheriff’s office had increased patrols in the area at the request of residents, but hadn’t had reports of any incidents at the store, Bailey said.
At the community meeting, Young also outlined the steps needed to ban the product in either the county or the state, which had been discussed at a county legislative package meeting Friday between the commissioners and the local delegation to the General Assembly and again at a public hearing on those proposals Saturday morning.
He said they’re hoping to develop the legislation through a process that can move it quickly through the General Assembly and be signed by the governor by mid-February. Such an emergency measure would take effect immediately, rather than waiting until Oct. 1 to take affect like most legislation.
Until that process can take place, Young called on landlords not to rent to people who plan to sell the product, and asked residents to be on the lookout for it.
“Until we get the law passed, it’s going to have to be a community effort,” he said.
Jenkins told the legislative delegation Saturday morning that he supports a ban on synthetic drugs.
“This has really become a public safety issue, a public health issue and certainly a personal health issue,” he said.
Sid Burkot, owner of Red Wing Shoes on Md. 85, or Buckeystown Pike, told the delegation that a store selling spice had opened up near his business about a month ago.
In that time, the store was robbed twice, with the robber in one instance running into a Red Wing customer as he was fleeing, Burkot said.
The problem is very frustrating as a retailer, he said.
Sen. Ron Young (D-Dist. 3), said at least three members of the delegation have been working on the proposed legislation, and probably would introduce a statewide bill, as well as one that applies just to Frederick County in case the statewide bill dies.
Lawmakers ran into a problem during the last session with how to define the product in order to ban it because its makers can change the chemical compounds used to make it as quickly as the legislature can ban them.
But Frederick’s ordinance has a wide definition, banning any chemically synthesized drug that affects cannabinoid receptors, rather than a list of specific compounds.
Ron Young praised the city’s ordinance as one of the best spice regulations he’d seen.
“We’ve been reviewing what other states have done,” Young said. “I think it’s one of the best pieces that I’ve seen. It had an immediate effect in the city. It shut down the sale of it from a location that was causing problems. ... I don’t think anything is going to shut down everything, but the immediate effect of Frederick was shutting down the places downtown causing problems.”
Taylor told the delegation that action was needed soon.
“We need help from you now,” he said. “Not next month, not next year.”
Staff Writer Tripp Laino contributed to this story.