Payson Bans Designer Drugs


We applaud the Payson Town Council’s prompt and creative response to the threat to our kids posed by the sale of designer drugs in stores in Rim Country.

The town faced a challenging legal problem: How can we outlaw the sale of untested, potentially dangerous packets of synthetic drugs flying under the radar screen of the nation’s current drug laws.

Cynical drug peddlers have lately hit upon a novel approach to skirting the drug laws by using various cleverly engineered compounds to create perfectly legal, but potentially dangerous packets of designer drugs.

Shamelessly, they slap a “not for human consumption” label on the packages, even though they know that teenagers use their “product” to get high. If the state rushes through a ban on specific ingredients, the drug designers simply change the mix.

No one knows what these compounds might do to the people who use them. Last week, a teenager bought a package of spice, smoked it and passed out in a Payson store. He woke up and paramedics rushed him to the hospital for a checkup. Reports link these drugs to seizures, confusion, aggressive behavior and other reactions.

So Payson Town Attorney Tim Wright and Police Chief Don Engler brainstormed to figure out how they could draft an ordinance that would invoke the town’s legal authority to protect the public health and regulate marketplaces to ban the sale of such substances in the town limits. They hit upon an ingenious approach, that the town council adopted last night. The law would prevent shop owners from selling any “product” used to get high if it’s packaged in a misleading way — let’s say as the result of a “not for human consumption” sticker.

Hopefully, the town’s novel legal approach will stand up in court. That would provide a model for other communities in this state to protect their communities — and their children.

In the meantime, we’re happy that the town declared an “emergency,” so police can begin enforcing the ban immediately.

Moreover, we hope the outlets still willing to risk the health of our children for money won’t wait for the police — and will pull this dangerous product from their shelves immediately.

Reckless reforms

In another thoughtless vote, Arizona lawmakers passed Move On When Ready (MOWR). Lawmakers adopted Florida-style reforms that will hold back third-graders who do poorly on standardized tests, but didn’t provide the big infusion of new money that made the Florida approach work.

Worse yet, Arizona imposed the changes without studying the long-term results of the Florida experiment, which showed gains in the early grades evaporating by eighth grade.

The Florida reforms have made waves across the nation because of big test score gains for elementary school students. But too often reformers have seized on cheap elements of the reforms like grading schools and holding back third-graders and ignored the big ticket items like lowering class sizes.

Arizona State Superintendent John Huppenthal wanted to hop on the Florida reform bandwagon, but the state Legislature was cutting funding for K-12 schools — not investing in improvements. So the state told schools, “This is the mandate, make it happen — and by the way, we have no money to help.”

When this legislation passed, some feared a big chunk of Payson’s third-graders would flunk. Instead, preliminary state scores show that this year only 3 percent of Payson’s third-graders failed to pass. In fact, Payson students performed as well as top Valley districts like Scottsdale and Kyrene in Ahwatukee.

Fortunately, the Payson school district had the vision to create the Response to Intervention (RTI) program with federal stimulus funds. Students struggling with reading are moved into small groups and given ample one-on-one instruction. Students can chart their progress through daily tests of their reading speed, vocabulary and comprehension — all guided by individual attention from RTI teachers.

Tragically, RTI now limps along with no source of funding except for money the district scavenges from its shrinking budget — even if other areas of the school suffer. With a new state budget around the corner, additional cuts to education could spell the death of the program.

RTI offers students and teachers new tools, while the MOWR legislation asks teachers to keep hammering away at the same bent nail.

If all Arizona can do is require students to repeat the same program they failed at the first time, how can anyone expect a different result?


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