By Peter Hermann,
For the past two decades, Hamid Savojbolaghi has sold used books out of the basement of his beige and blue rowhouse on a prominent corner in Northwest Washington’s Georgetown neighborhood.
In November, he rented the two floors above his shop to two men who he said told him they planned to sell cigarettes, hats and T-shirts.
On Tuesday, D.C. police raided the stucco house on 33rd Street, just off Wisconsin Avenue, alleging the renters sold marijuana. Police said they also sold products infused with cannabidiol, or CBD, which can be extracted from hemp or cannabis and is believed to have medicinal properties.
The midafternoon raid by police, who blocked off a street with crime scene tape and created a mini spectacle for shoppers and residents in the tony district, dismayed the 65-year-old Savojbolaghi. He was home when officers showed up but was not charged with a crime.
Now, the longtime book merchant who once lived above his shop and kept flowers out front, said he is consulting an attorney in an effort to kick the two men police arrested off their year-long, $3,500-a-month lease.
“I’ve been here all these years without a problem,” Savojbolaghi said. “I don’t want anything to do with that type of business.”
For D.C. police, the raid on the 33rd Street shop was another targeting what they describe as a proliferation of marijuana stores and pop-up shops that sometimes appear and disappear before authorities can act on complaints. Police on Wednesday raided another suspected marijuana market called Up N Down Smoke Shop, located above a jewelry store on Wisconsin Avenue, four blocks from the book store.
In a search warrant, a police detective wrote of a “great emergence of schemes to sell marijuana” since small amounts of the drug were largely decriminalized in 2015. Selling it remains illegal. The nonintoxicating CBD can be illegal in the District if it is extracted from marijuana plants rather then hemp. The federal government has not recognized the product as safe for human or animal food.
A spokesman for the D.C. police department said the items seized in the raid above the book store will be tested.
Those items include apparent CBD-infused cookies, gummy candy, oils, pain relievers and “K Cup” coffee pods. There were even CBD-infused products for pets. Police also said they seized 6.2 pounds of marijuana, along with THC-infused electronic cigarette cartridges.
Police said in court documents the owners ran the business under the name “Mr. Nice Guys DC.” In social media postings, the shop promised patrons they didn’t need a medical card to make purchases. Reviewers on Yelp praised the clean environment but complained of high prices, and several posted pictures of the products they bought.
Authorities said they charged Gregory Wimsatt, 34, and Damion West, 39, both of Silver Spring, Md., with possession of marijuana with intent to distribute. Wimsatt’s attorney did not respond to an interview request; a lawyer for West declined to comment.
Joe Gibbons, an advisory neighborhood commissioner in Georgetown, said he received complaints about the smell of marijuana, rowdy people gathered in front of the shop, crowded parking and vehicles being driven the wrong way on 33rd Street. One person complained people were smoking marijuana in cars parked in front of private homes.
Gibbons contacted city agencies, including police, whose crime suppression unit did an investigation that led to Tuesday’s raid. Police Cmdr. Duncan Bedlion, who heads the 2nd District station, said in an email to residents that his officers received “an uptick in citizen complaints about drug activity and even a report of hearing gunshots.” He said Tuesday’s raid netted “a large amount of narcotics.”
Savojbolaghi said he put the building up for sale over the summer and moved out. But he said a deal fell through, and he decided to rent the upper floors and keep selling his books for another year. He said the men he rented to had responded to an advertisement.
The building’s owner said he had no knowledge of what police say the men were really selling. The basement book shop has a separate entrance from the rest of the house, though there is access to all the floors from inside.
Savojbolaghi said police came to the basement on Tuesday but did not seize any of his property. He was detained and questioned, and court documents confirm he told police he thought his new renters were selling cigarettes. The court documents say no marijuana or CBD products were found in the basement.
On Thursday, Savojbolaghi said he spent the day picking up books he said were toppled during the raid, and trying to figure his next step. “I hope this doesn’t affect my book store,” he said.
Joe Heim contributed to this report.