The hand-drawn posters all carried a similar message, “Stop One Stop Selling Spice” and get designer drugs out of the hands of Payson residents.
A group of 15 gathered at the One Stop convenience store for several hours Saturday to protest what they say is a growing problem in the community — the sale and use of synthetic drugs such as spice, potpourri and bath salts.
While legal to use and buy, the group said the substances can have unattended health consequences. Local authorities have already seen several users get sick off the synthetic drugs and one even suffered a seizure from possible use. Other reactions range from violent outburst to hallucinations.
A state Senate committee in January endorsed legislation that would ban seven compounds used to make the synthetic stimulants found in bath salts.
In February 2010, Arizona banned several substances used to make spice.
However, just as soon as the ban was in place, companies altered the chemical makeup of the drugs slightly, putting the product back on the shelves, said Payson Police Chief Don Engler.
While the products remain legal, protesters said it is up to local businesses to pull it from their shelves.
The products have been so sought after at One Stop, that in the past few months, thieves have broken in at night and cleared the shelves.
A request for comment from One Stop was not returned as of press time.
Jim Muir, who helped organize Saturday’s protest, said he spoke to a One Stop employee before the rally and was told by the employee that the store’s owner lives in the Valley and has instructed him to sell the marijuana-like products.
Other shops in town sell similar products and Muir said they will hold more protests.
Muir and a local Tea Party group decided to protest at One Stop after Payson Mayor Kenny Evans spoke at a recent Tea Party meeting.
On Monday, Evans told the Roundup the town is working on an ordinance that would outlaw the sale of spice and similar designer drugs in Payson.
“We’re working with other municipalities in the state — we’re working with our legal counsel and legal counsel for the League of Cities and Towns to ensure that whatever ordinance we pass will deal with the core problem — which is dangerous designer drugs that are always one-half a step ahead of the law.”
When the group heard that spice was becoming a growing problem, especially among youth in the community, they felt compelled to act, Muir said.
During the group’s four-hour protest at One Stop, the group got mostly positive feedback.
“The community response was marvelous,” Muir said. “People were driving by and giving us thumbs up, honking their horns and yelling in support.”
Protester Dean Younker said the level of encouragement from passing motorists surprised him.
Several even stopped and said they would no longer shop at One Stop or any store that sold spice-like products.
“It was a very good, peaceful demonstration,” Younker said.
Younker said protesters did not want to upset anyone so they made sure to stay on the public easement.
Only one man approached and said the group should leave since the store was not violating any laws, Muir said. Most surprisingly for the group was the number of young people that stopped to say they supported their effort.
An 11-year-old and 13-year-old even asked if they could join the cause and hold posters with the group.
Muir said beyond targeting One Stop’s selling practices, he wanted to send a message to all shops that synthetic drugs are not wanted in the community.
“My purpose in doing this was twofold; to let the community know that we have a problem here and we need to be vocal and visible and to let merchants know that we protest it.”
The Tea Party group plans to protest again.
“Whenever we find something that it is not right we are going to protest it, whatever it is,” he said.