The Payson Town Council has taken the first step toward adopting a cutting edge law that attempts to bar the sale of designer drugs by focusing on whether the store selling those substances ought to know people will take them to get high.
The new law represents an attempt to cope with mixes of compounds sold as “bath salts” or “potpourri” which include things like synthetic imitations of the active ingredient in marijuana that bundlers can readily change to evade bans based on their components.
Instead, the Payson law would focus on whether the owner of a store selling the product knows — or ought to know — that the compounds will be abused for psychological effect. Many of the compounds are labeled “not for human consumption” to avoid various federal regulations. However, most of the compounds have no use other than human consumption.
Town attorney Tim Wright said that he and police chief Don Engler had grappled with how to craft an ordinance that could cover a wide range of compounds, regardless of their specific contents.
“We opted to focus on whether someone is selling something they know is being misused. Our prosecutor thinks it’s something we can prosecute. Hopefully, this will take a bite out of these designer drugs,” Wright said.
Protesters have picketed a number of outlets in Pine and Payson selling such designer drugs in recent weeks. In some cases, store owners have stopped carrying the products as a result of the protests — although the packets have proven both popular and highly profitable.
However, Payson Mayor Kenny Evans expressed misgivings about the use of the word “products” in the title of the proposed ordinance, which had its first reading before the council last Thursday.
“Can’t we use the term ‘dangerous drugs,’ not just ‘products’? I can see the term ‘product’ being wrapped around something that can be misused that has nothing to do with drugs.”
But Wright objected, “if you use the term ‘dangerous drug’ that has a very specific statutory meaning.”
“How do we get around someone selling a refrigerator that has a frayed chord and shocks me?” persisted Evans.
Wright noted that he had wrestled with that potential ambiguity, although he thought of examples like aerosol cans of spray paint — some people use the fumes from the spray paint’s propellant gas to get high. Wright said the ordinance wasn’t aimed at products that are mostly used for other purposes, but can in rare instances be abused.
“It’s a matter of proportionality,” he said. “But we can approve it any way you want.”
“I just don’t like the word ‘product,’” said Evans. “Some people misuse their golf club and beat a tree with it.”
“We defined it later in the ordinance — but I can talk to Chief Engler about that,” conceded Wright.
No members of the public asked to speak at the public hearing, so Wright promised to address the mayor’s concerns before presenting the ordinance for a second reading at the next council meeting.