I spoke with Amir Ousman, the owner of the Petworth Market (3715 Georgia Avenue NW) about Thursday's incident with DC Tax & Revenue. He was upset about the article and the allegation of selling synthetic drugs. "We're a community store, and we don't sell that stuff here," he said.
According to a follow-up by MPD, the substance in the package found by Tax & Revenue inspectors was tested by the Narcotics division and determined to be loose-leaf tobacco, not synthetic drugs or marijuana.
So I stopped by the store on Saturday afternoon to find out what happened. Walking into a store allegedly busted for illegal activity isn't a comfortable thing to do, but I wanted to follow up. I'm glad I did. I was able to give Amir Ousman the opportunity to share his side of the story. (He wasn't at the store, but called me later in the day after I spoke with a different employee.)
According to Amir, here's what happened: On Thursday morning, December 17th, inspectors from Tax & Revenue conducted a random search of the store. He said this is common, and something they do with all convenience stores. "It was a random search, which is perfectly fine by me," Amir said. The inspectors took a package of "Blackout" loose leaf tobacco for further testing.
I looked up the product, Blackout, made by a company called Funnels. The product is a loose leaf tobacco used for rolling cigars -- a legal product, as far as I'm able to determine.
Amir said the inspectors brought it back Thursday night. He thought that was the end of it. Instead, MPD reported later that day:
The DC Tax & Revenue was conducting an inspection at 3715 Georgia Avenue, NW Petworth Market when they observed several suspicious packages that appeared to be either Synthetic marijuana or illegal marijuana. MPD is currently conducting an investigation.
I followed up with an MPD officer after seeing the initial report, who told me the store had a history with them. According to the officer, MPD had confiscated the synthetic drug K2 from the store in the past after they allegedly sold it to an informant. Amir said the store opened three years ago, and said he has no recollection of any confiscation in the past. He said this is his only business.
"We are a community store," he said. "We serve the local community and wouldn't sell that. Not at all. I have kids myself. I don’t want to see it. It’s illegal and it’s nowhere near my store."
"I was really shocked when I saw the article [on Facebook]," Amir told me. "It was really hurtful. We are no where near the example of Upshur Street [referring to the Riyad]. We get business from the community. It doesn’t feel good about being compared to the Riyad; it wasn't a good neighborhood store," he said.
Amir stressed that he wants community feedback, and how the store can better serve local customers. "We want to know things they want to see, changes they want, they can contact me," he said. (You can email Amir if you want to share feedback on the store, products or changes you want to see.)
So was the store a bad neighbor, as alleged by MPD? Are they innocent of any illegal activity, as Amir says? Honestly, no clue. I can only go on what MPD reports and what the owner subsequently told me.
It does beg the question: While the Blackout package may look suspicious (it's similar to the packages of synthetics I've seen around the neighborhood, only smaller), but why doesn't DC Tax and Revenue know what are legal tobacco product packages? I'm sure there are many variants out there, but isn't this exactly what they're inspecting for? MPD's response seems normal -- they have to investigate a claim such as this.
But it also makes me ask if I should have waited longer to report on it.
The first question about Tax & Rev I can't answer, but the last one I can. I have to trust the police reports I get, and in light of my strong dislike for the actions of the former Riyad market, I know I was quick to assume another small store might have been doing the same thing. Frankly, I'll have to think deeper on future reports, and how I want to write them up.
Amir and I talked about the initial article, and he understood why it was written, but was unhappy about it. "It doesn't look good for the store," Amir said. "We are a community store and want feedback from the community." If you shop at Petworth Market, I encourage you to reach out to Amir.