OCEAN CITY – As expected, Mayor Rick Meehan signed on the dotted line while Councilman Joe Hall stood his ground in opposition on Monday night, and by Tuesday morning, salvia was illegal in Ocean City.
After City Council voted for an emergency ordinance to be drawn up by City Solicitor Guy Ayres that would ban the possession or sale of salvia and its related paraphernalia last week, the council passed that emergency ordinance on Monday night by way of a 6-1 vote, with Councilman Joe Hall in opposition. With Meehan’s signature, the product is now illegal everywhere within the town limits of Ocean City.
“It is the most potent naturally occurring hallucinogenic on our planet,” said Captain Robert Bokinsky of the Ocean City Police Department. “Some have contested that salvia is more potent that LSD and it has been advertised in Ocean City as a natural alternative for ecstasy and hallucinogenic mushrooms. All that is really required to purchase this is cash, and we feel it’s unpredictable and dangerous to the public.”
The City Council was all but unanimous in its concurrence with the idea to ban the substance, which it deemed a public safety concern and with the proliferation of the associated paraphernalia, was tarnishing the family image of the resort.
Councilman Joe Hall, however, remained steadfast in his opposition to the emergency ordinance, clinging to his opinion that the state’s current allowance of salvia as a legal substance would preempt any enforcement of the town’s new law.
Two of Hall’s questions from last week seemed to be addressed on Monday night, as Bokinsky outlined a number of arrests and police matters that had occurred in recent months while people were “under the influence of salvia”, including a young girl screaming in the early morning hours of June 13 that she was being raped. Bokinsky said when the officers arrived she was alone and admitted that she had been hallucinating after smoking salvia.
Hall’s other question about the need for the ordinance involved any statistics concerning salvia-related deaths in the area, which when that subject was broached, a chilling reality was realized in the council chambers.
Councilman Doug Cymek read excerpts of a letter from Kathleen Chidester, whose son Brett, had taken his own life while under the influence of the substance in January of 2006.
Chidester’s efforts after her 17-year-old son’s untimely demise were an integral part in the state of Delaware’s ban on salvia, by way of “Brett’s law” in March of 2006.
“Brett was my only child and it’s my deepest hope that no other parent would have to experience the heartache that my family and I have gone through in the past three years,” said Chidester in her letter. “The milestones (in his life) have now been taken away by a drug that continues to be legal…please support your own Brett’s Law in Ocean City. Your children are counting on you.”
Bokinsky also drove the point home by showing a YouTube video of a teen smoking salvia, and the almost immediate erratic behavior displayed on the screen was enough to assure the council that their path, albeit a risky one when dealing with municipal vs. state law, was the proper one.
“I just know that we are doing the right thing here,” said Councilwoman Mary Knight. “It’s illegal in 14 states, and even in some of the most liberal countries in the world, like Belgium, Denmark and Sweden, where you can basically do anything you want to do, they’ve made salvia illegal.”
Last week, Councilwoman Margaret Pillas reported to members of the police commission that she was told that the County Commissioners would follow suit with similar legislation to prohibit the product in the county, a claim that several commissioners vehemently denied this week. However, one commissioner attended Monday’s meeting to show her support for what the town was doing.
“I applaud your efforts in creating this ordinance because this is a very serious issue, and I think that Ocean City is being most proactive and this will go out statewide that you care about the people who visit here, that you care about tourism and that you care about the young people here, said Commissioner Linda Busick.
Meehan said that the important thing is that the product be removed from the shelves and that the message be clearly sent that the town planned to enforce the message that the ordinance lays out.
“This law is very clear and I will comply with this request to sign this law for the safety and general welfare of our citizens and visitors,” he said.