SNOW HILL – A ban on salvia will not be on the agenda for the County Commissioners, several commissioners said this week, reflecting an unofficial consensus among county elected officials that the state of Maryland needs to step in to regulate or ban the hallucinogenic substance.
“The consensus is it should be done at the state level,” said Commissioner Bud Church.
Legislation to enact a ban on salvia sales to individuals under 21 in Maryland was not approved by the Maryland General Assembly during the 2009 spring session, passing the House only to die in the Senate.
Worcester County cannot enact an emergency bill, even if it wanted to, before the end of the summer, Commissioner Virgil Shockley said. Such a bill would have to be introduced on Aug. 18 and could not be voted on until Sept. 8.
The commissioners do not make hasty judgments on public health or criminal issues, said Commissioner Judy Boggs, who added it was incorrect for a certain City Council member in Ocean City to claim at a public meeting the county was going to adopt a similar ordinance to stop the spread of salvia west.
“We discuss it. We turn it over to our attorney to get his input,” Boggs said.
Other staffers, such as Health Officer Debbie Goeller, would probably be consulted, Boggs added.
“You get all of the information available on it and then we move from there,” Boggs said.
Commissioner Linda Busick, a retired Baltimore County police officer, has been studying salvia since February 2008, after a teenager mentioned it during a Worcester County Drug and Alcohol Council meeting.
“I actually went down to the Boardwalk and went into a store. I saw the package. I knew what to look for. They had it out on display,” said Busick of her investigation of the legal hallucinogen.
The clerk at the store advised Busick, if she were to take salvia, to make sure not to ingest the substance in a crowd, saying it was not a party drug and that she should have someone with her.
“It’s not exactly the safest thing to do,” said Busick, pointing out that even the people selling it say so.
Parents of teenagers have also called her with their concerns about the legal hallucinogen, asking what action to take.
Busick said she has mentioned the need to do something about salvia to the other County Commissioners in the past, but never made an official motion for action. County attorney Sonny Bloxom told her the matter should he handled through the state, she said.
The commissioners, despite Ocean City’s recent ban of the substance, will continue to support the state option, instead of following the resort’s lead.
“I backed Ocean City 100 percent. I think they did absolutely the right thing. I don’t think it’s a substance we want our children being able to purchase,” said Church.
Several commissioners said they are likely to ask Delegate Jim Matthias to introduce a bill in the Maryland General Assembly to ban salvia sales entirely in the state.
The commissioners have not taken that position officially, however. No vote has been held.
A statewide ban would prevent sales of salvia from simply being pushed over the border to the next jurisdiction, Church said, adding that he is concerned that a side-effect of the Ocean City ban will be more salvia sales in West Ocean City and Berlin.
“Frankly, I think it’s a state responsibility. I don’t want to push it from place to place. If you’re going to outlaw it, outlaw it. If you’re going to regulate it, regulate it,” said Boggs.
With the summer season having less than a month to run, and the customer base for salvia falling drastically in September, that will only be an issue for a few weeks, as long as the General Assembly bans salvia entirely in its spring session.
The commissioners expressed disappointment at the failure of the 2009 state salvia bill, proposed in part by local delegates Mathias and Norm Conway.
“I cannot understand why it was not passed. It should have been a slam dunk,” said Boggs.
The legislature could have amended the legislation as presented if representatives did not agree with the details, she said.
Church said he is fairly confident the state ban will pass in the next legislative session in January 2010.
The General Assembly could pass a salvia bill as emergency legislation, which would put the law if approved into effect as soon as the governor signed it. That would be sometime in April, if the legislation were successful, well before the start of the next summer season.
“It would make the whole summer season,” said Church.
Busick said she will continue her pursuit of a ban.
“I have talked to everyone ‘til I’m blue in the face trying to get something done to ban this,” said Busick.
While restricting the sale of salvia statewide to individuals over 21 would be an acceptable first step, Busick wants to go all the way. “I’d like it to be a felony to possess,” Busick said.