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 “dreamlike” 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.
“I think it provides a gateway to using other illicit substances to kids who find it through school,” 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 — 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.
“They don’t have a preponderance of evidence about the negative consequences,” she said, supporting the bill.
However, students, scientists and head shop employees stand divided on the issue.
“It’s fairly harmless,” said Gregorio Cervantes, a board member for the University of Minnesota’s Students for Sensible Drug Policy. “Compared to other hallucinogenic drugs, it’s very short term.”
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.
“We used to let people try it in the store when we first got it. One guy tried to [crawl] underneath my cooler,” Sakallah said.
Steve Johnson, an employee at Uptown’s Peacemakers, said he thinks the risks of salvia are largely exaggerated.
Johnson, who has used salvia, said he considers the drug to be “self-regulating.”
“Most people who do it don’t end up ever doing it again,” Johnson said.
A 2006 University of Florida study surveyed thousands of undergraduate students on their knowledge of salvia. While the study didn’t 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 wouldn’t use it again.
Some researchers and scientists around the country have discovered medical benefits in salvia’s primary ingredient, Salvinorin A, that could lead to treatment of Alzheimer’s 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.
“It’s going to be a loss to taxpayers, because we’re going to be paying for the incarceration of people getting arrested for this,” he said.
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