Pubdate: Sat, 21 Jun 2008
Source: Cullman Times, The (AL)
Contact:  2008 The Cullman Times
Author: Patrick McCreless


The hallucinogen salvia divinorum is legal and available in Alabama,
but that may soon change.

Deborah Soule, executive director for the Huntsville-based Partnership
for a Drug Free Community, said efforts are currently under way to
outlaw the drug once and for all. Since 2007, Soule has personally
contacted many of Alabama's legislators and Gov. Bob Riley to bring
attention to the drug.

She had limited success during the last legislative session, when Sen.
Roger Bedford Jr. sponsored a bill to make salvia a controlled
substance. However, the bill never made it made it out of committee.

"It just got caught up in a log jam of a Republican filibuster,"
Bedford said.

To Soule, the real problem with the bill was the lack of education
about salvia.

"The biggest problem in the Alabama Legislature is a lot of people
didn't know about it," Soule said.

According to the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), salvia -
also referred to as Maria Pastora, Sage of the Seers and Magic Mint -
is a perennial herb in the mint family native to certain areas of the
Sierra Mazateca regions of Oaxaca, Mexico. The substance has been
employed by the Mazatec Indians for its hallucinogen effects for
ritual divination and healing.

In the United States, however, teenagers and college students are the
ones who reportedly take advantage of the drug.

"Unfortunately it has become a designer drug for young people,"
Bedford said.

A limited number of studies have reported salvia's effects, which
include perceptions of bright lights, vivid colors and shapes,
dysphoria, uncontrolled laughter, hallucinations and a sense of loss
of body. It is typically smoked or chewed.

"It's bad stuff," Soule said. "The biggest problem is you lose your
sense of gravity ... they think they can float."

When recently asked about salvia, Rep. Jeremy Oden said he had never
heard of it. Once he was told it was hallucinogen, he said he would
like to make it illegal.

"If it's producing hallucinogenic effects, we need to control that
aspect of it," Oden said. "I would support something to outlaw it."

When Rep. James Fields was recently told about salvia, he said it
would be a good idea to make it illegal.

"I would be supportive of a ban on it," Fields said. "Our young people
are still our most valued commodity. If we don't deter drug use, we
won't be doing our jobs as legislators."

While many Alabama legislators are just now learning about salvia's
existence, legislators in other states have already outlawed the drug.
To date, eight states, including Oklahoma, North Dakota, Missouri,
Illinois, Tennessee, Louisiana, Delaware and Maine have all made
salvia a controlled substance.

Rep. Brenda Heller was one of three North Dakota legislators who
sponsored the bill that outlawed salvia in her state last year.

"It went right through," Heller said. "You can't sell it or buy it.
The bill makes it a felony."

To Huntsville resident Andrew Rawlins, who has used salvia many times
over the past five years, outlawing the drug is the wrong way to go.

"Why are we making more laws to incarcerate people when we don't have
enough room in our prisons now," Rawlins asked.

He said salvia is not a party drug, but instead a way to gain
spiritual insight. He added that the drug is not addictive and not
dangerous since it leaves the body within minutes after use.

While he is against an outright ban, Rawlins said some regulation
might be helpful.

"I wouldn't be opposed to making it unavailable to anyone under 18 ...
make it mandated like alcohol," Rawlins said.

Though the bill to ban Saliva did not make it very far in the Alabama
Legislature, Soule is not discouraged and expects another bill to come
up during the next session.

"Now they know about it," Soule said. "This bill is a no-brainer."
- ---
MAP posted-by: Richard Lake