Students, concerned parents protest sale of synthetics

By DeeAnna Haney | Feb 03, 2013

Despite a steady snowfall, about 20 highschoolers and concerned community members gathered at Haywood Square in Waynesville Saturday to protest the sale of synthetic marijuana.

Until about a week ago, the Music Box sold a number of synthetics, which are marketed as incense and advise on the package that they are “not for human consumption.”

It was among the few stores in Haywood County which continued to carry the product. But the owner of the store, who wished to remain unnamed, said he pulled the product from his shelves last Tuesday after he learned there is a federal ban against them.

He was not happy to see the group of protestors posted in front of his store for something he no longer sells, he said.

“My thing is, it was legal,” he said, adding that he had employees check state law regularly to make sure he could sell it.

Although there is no age restriction on the product, he would not sell it to anyone under 21 or to anyone who expressed a desire to use it for a high. One employee said she refused to sell the product to a woman who she had previously watched give it to a teenager in the parking lot after leaving the store.

“Why don’t they go picket the convenience store for selling alcohol and cigarettes?” the owner said, who has operated the store for 41 years.

But the protestors said they were attempting to get the word out that synthetic drugs may be fake, but they are a real problem in Haywood County.

Two groups came together for the event – members of the community who are actively involved in Drugs in Our Midst, an ongoing program that gives presentations to raise drug awareness, and about 15 high school students whose mission is to stop kids from doing drugs.

Both obtained their own protest permit from the Waynesville Police Department and an officer stayed nearby to keep the peace.

Best friends Dakota Peters and Josh Cowan were among the teens leading the picket because both have similar stories – they were once regular users of synthetic marijuana.

Smoking marijuana and synthetic drugs was an everyday ritual for the two, but it began to take a toll on their family and social life.

“I remember disrespecting my parents and it was destroying my family. I would argue with them for no reason,” Peters, 17, said.

He never had time to spend with friends because he was always searching for his next fix.

“I spent all my time and all my money on drugs and that’s something I’m ashamed of,” Peters said. “I’ve resorted to bumming a dollar off of someone in the Ingles parking lot before.”

One night, after smoking some Bizarro, a popular new brand name of synthetic marijuana, he began to feel dizzy walking through his house. His vision blurred, and the next thing he knew, he was passed out on the floor.

“Maybe that is what knocked some sense into me,” he said, because after that moment, Peters decided to quit using.

“We’ve been through a lot together,” Cowan said. “We used to smoke every day. All we could think about was our next high, but we eventually realized we wanted more out of life. ...It seemed like it was time to get through life by ourselves without the help of drugs.”

It wasn’t just them, but an entire circle of friends who took drugs regularly, and they saw all the negative side effects.

“I’ve known 10 or 12 people who had to go to the hospital because of Bizarro and K2,” Peters said.

He’s seen friends have seizures, hallucinations, heart palpatations and vomit after smoking the drug. There were times when they said they thought they were going to die.

“The first time one of our friends tried Kush 2, he took one hit and two minutes later he couldn’t walk, couldn’t talk and he was limp laying in the grass,” Cowan said.

For Cowan and Peters, their first experience with drugs was marijuana.

“Whoever says marijuana is not a gateway drug is wrong,” Peters said. “I said I’d never do anything else, but then I tried more and more.”

Since quitting drugs, both have decided to make it their mission to help other teens struggling with addiction and drug use. They even started their own organization, Junior PA - Problems Anonymous.

That’s why they decided to organize the protest and get the word out that if they could do it, anyone could do it.

The heavily traveled road brought honks of support and appreciation from several passersby.

Cowan and Peters hope that seeing so many teens speak against the drug will inspire others to come forward for help.They plan to spend every upcoming Saturday picketing various businesses they know to sell synthetic drugs.

"There's more to life than drugs and if anyone needs help seeing that, they need to come see us. All professionals do is give you medicine, but it's easier to talk to a kid, because we've been there," Cowan said.

Visit their Facebook page JuniorPA-problems anonymous, for more information about their organization.