Senate approves bill to ban salvia

The bill would impose penalties on those in possession of the psychoactive drug.

Hideaway employee Broke Johnson shows a package of Salvia. Legislators have given preliminary approval to a bill that could criminalize the hallucinogenic herb.

Hideaway employee Broke Johnson shows a package of Salvia. Legislators have given preliminary approval to a bill that could criminalize the hallucinogenic herb.

Raghav Mehta

Minnesota may be poised to join the ranks of 17 other states that have passed legislation prohibiting the sale and possession of the hallucinogenic drug salvia. The Minnesota Senate approved a bill Monday that would impose penalties on distributors and users in possession of the psychoactive substance. The House bill is awaiting approval. The drug has gained notoriety for its controversial side effects and availability. Salvia is available for sale at head shops across the state and is known to trigger intense hallucinations where users enter a âÄúdreamlikeâÄù state that can last for up to 15 minutes. State experts and law enforcement officials testified at a recent House Public Safety Policy and Oversight Committee meeting about the proposed legislation. Rep. Morrie Lanning, R-Moorhead, the chief author of the House bill, told the committee that the issue was first brought to his attention by Moorhead police Chief David Ebinger. âÄúI think it provides a gateway to using other illicit substances to kids who find it through school,âÄù Ebinger said. Seventeen states have outlawed the drug, and 10 are considering a ban, Lanning said. Salvia is not currently regulated in any way on the federal level âÄî something Carol Falkowski, director of the alcohol and drug abuse division at the Minnesota Department of Human Services, attributed to a lack of evidence of its risks. âÄúThey donâÄôt have a preponderance of evidence about the negative consequences,âÄù she said, supporting the bill. However, students, scientists and head shop employees stand divided on the issue. âÄúItâÄôs fairly harmless,âÄù said Gregorio Cervantes, a board member for the University of MinnesotaâÄôs Students for Sensible Drug Policy. âÄúCompared to other hallucinogenic drugs, itâÄôs very short term.âÄù But Wally Sakallah, owner of Hideaway, a head shop in Dinkytown, said that after seeing some of the affects firsthand, he would support a ban on the product. Sakallah was one of the first vendors to introduce salvia in the state of Minnesota earlier in the decade. âÄúWe used to let people try it in the store when we first got it. One guy tried to [crawl] underneath my cooler,âÄù Sakallah said. Steve Johnson, an employee at UptownâÄôs Peacemakers, said he thinks the risks of salvia are largely exaggerated. Johnson, who has used salvia, said he considers the drug to be âÄúself-regulating.âÄù âÄúMost people who do it donâÄôt end up ever doing it again,âÄù Johnson said. A 2006 University of Florida study surveyed thousands of undergraduate students on their knowledge of salvia. While the study didnâÄôt note the number of users, it found only 22 percent of students had heard of salvia. Among the students who reported they had used the drug, more than half said they wouldnâÄôt use it again. Some researchers and scientists around the country have discovered medical benefits in salviaâÄôs primary ingredient, Salvinorin A, that could lead to treatment of AlzheimerâÄôs disease and schizophrenia. Cervantes stressed concerns he had about the implications of criminalizing the drug, warning that the illegality could appeal to more users and ultimately lead to increased demand. Cervantes also said punishing those who use it could result in more taxes. âÄúItâÄôs going to be a loss to taxpayers, because weâÄôre going to be paying for the incarceration of people getting arrested for this,âÄù he said.