January 30, 2012The Senate has passed a bill outlawing salvia divinorum, an herbal hallucinogen. Currently legal in New York, salvia divinorum is an herb that is native to Mexico and has been used for spiritual and medicinal purposes for centuries.
The legislation is sponsored by Sen.John Flanagan, R-East Northport, who cites the potential of the drug to act as a "gateway" to other, more dangerous drugs. Flanagan's bill, if passed by the Assembly and signed into law, would outlaw it from the state.
His bill was introduced in 2010 and passed the Senate once already in the 2011 session.
"I am looking at anecdotal evidence. I think it has the potential to be a gateway to many other things. I think it is better to get ahead of the problem before hand," said Flanagan. This anecdotal evidence includes YouTube videos that show users experiencing what appear to be psychedelic trips after smoking salvia, including pop star Miley Cyrus shown smoking it with friends.
Executive Director of the Long Island Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence, Dr. Jeffrey Reynolds, said, "We have seen, anecdotally, the use of salvia as a gateway. Those who use salvia tend to be heavy users."
However, according to the Drug Policy Alliance, there is no evidence of salvia acting as a gateway drug. "People who say salvia is a gateway drug essentially don't know what they are talking about," said Gabriel Sayegh, the New York state director of the anti-prohibition organization. "No it's not a gateway drug. The gateway theory has been so thoroughly eviscerated time and time again. We are still in the hangover phase of the lunacy of the drug war."
According to Drug Policy Alliance, while 6.7 percent of the population has used salvia at least once in their lifetime, only 0.5 percent has used it within the last month. "It's a mild hallucinogen; it is often a fairly unpleasant experience. Most people say they don't want to do it again. The prevalence of its use is miniscule," said Sayegh.
Reynolds, asserting his support for the ban, said, "Those who use salvia tend to be heavy users. I think it is [addictive]." When asked for data backing up the claim neither Reynolds nor LICADD could provide it.
"There is no basis to the claim that salvia is addictive. Whoever says that is expressing their incredible lack of knowledge on the subject," said Sayegh.
Assemblyman Peter Rivera, D-Bronx, has likewise put forward legislation proposing to regulate salvia. Assembly bill 5491, unlike the Senate bill banning the drug, seeks only to prohibit its sale to minors. Flanagan's bill, which implements a civil charge and a $500 fine for selling salvia, would need to pass through the Assembly, or be rectified with Rivera's bill, before becoming a statute.
"What it is that the Senate has done here is going to make things more complicated," said Sayegh. The Rivera bill "bans the sale of salvia to minorsÖ If you're an adult, you can buy it. Adults can make adult decisions about their own body. What the Senate does is make it so that no one can use the drug; this encourages the black market."