Resort Looks To Boot Legal Drug Out Of Shops

OCEAN CITY – From the mountains of Mexico to the Boardwalk shops of Ocean City, salvia divinorum has taken hold, promising everything from visions and divine intervention to a few minutes of fun. While opinions and the ultimate effects of the legal drug remain debatable, resort officials remained clear on their position last Thursday; ban salvia in Ocean City.

Salvia divinorum, which literally means diviner’s sage and is also known as ska pastora, diviner’s mint, Sally-D and Lady Salvia, has existed for centuries, but only recently came to the forefront in Ocean City. Found in numerous stores up and down the Boardwalk, town officials hope to ban the sale of the legal drug by summer’s end, in hopes of curbing its ever-growing popularity.

At a Police Commission meeting last week, Captain Robert Bokinsky presented an overview of the plant that he deemed, “OC’s legal hallucinogen”.

“We’re not talking about the garden variety – that’s not what we’re dealing with,” he said.

Salvia is a member of the sage and mint families and is a naturally occurring plant, however it is the leaves that possess the active ingredient that cause hallucinations. Scientists have declared Salvniorin A to hold the mind-altering power, which is found within the leaves of the plant.

Salvia, endemic to Oaxaco, Mexico, was originally used by Mazatec Indians to heal, see the future and evoke visions. While the drug has been around for centuries, it has only gained popularity in the United States in the past 10 to 20 years, exploding most recently through its availability on the Internet.

Salvia is typically smoked or chewed, with effects coming on quickly, within 20 seconds to five minutes and lasting briefly, from five minutes to 25 minutes. Some speculate that the more you use, the longer hallucinations last.

Personal experiences vary dramatically, making effects of the drug difficult to pinpoint. Bokinsky presented the commission with a youtube video of a college-age man experimenting with salvia. Needless to say, the experience was intense.

“You’ll see things that just don’t make sense. Once this thing takes a hold of your mind, it takes you where it takes you,” said Bokinsky.

Reviews among users vary however, with some claiming long-term clarity and dreams, others describing horrifying hallucinations and others chalking the experience up to a minor drug trip.

Online bloggers on described the effects in a variety of ways as well. Comments included:

“All in all, it was an amazing experience for me, unlike anything I have ever experienced in my entire life.”

“I am thankful to the spirit of the salvia plant for sharing in her bizarre wisdom and reminding me of the sanctity of life.”

“Heehee, funny, huh? The most terrifying experience in my life, and I was ready to do it again!”

Some of the effects include loss of physical coordination, visual alterations or visions, experiencing multiple realities, sense of profound understanding, sense of total confusion or madness, sense of flying, floating, twisting, or turning,  and a sense of becoming inanimate objects. A “sitter” is advised when using salvia, to monitor one’s actions.

To date, no concrete studies regarding the long-term effects or addictive nature of salvia have been presented, making it difficult to justify banning the drug.

One recorded death occurred in Delaware when a 17-year-old committed suicide. However, defenders of salvia would argue it is difficult to pinpoint salivia as the cause of death.

With salivia deemed as a strong hallucinigen, there is naturally a concern for driving while using, said Bokinsky. While the effects are short-lived, driving could pose a serious threat. Likewise, it would be difficult to prove salvia as the cause if an accident did occur, said Bokinsky explaining, “by the time the police officer gets there and talks to the person, they’re probably not going to be in the throws of a full-blown trip.”

Currently, salvia can be found along the length of  Ocean City’s Boardwalk, with neon signs flashing, “salivia!” in many store windows.

To date, 20 states and eight countries have banned salvia in some form. Australia banned the drug in 2002, while Italy made the sale and possession of salvia illegal in 2005, to name a few. In June, Florida passed the “hallucinigenic herb law”, putting salvia in the same class as controlled substances marijuana and LSD. In Maine, salvia is regulated the same way as tobacco, legal only for those 18 and older. More locally, Delaware banned salvia in 2006.

According to Bokinsky, the Maryland Attorney General is seeking means to ban salvia in Maryland, with legislation to be presented at the 2009 general session. However, even if legislation passes, the earliest the law could come to fruition would be July 2009, said Bokinsky.

The Drug Enforcement Agency is also looking into salvia, initiating an eight-factor analysis of the drug to make it a Schedule I substance, however that too could be a lengthy process, one that could take several years.

Bokinsky explained that four municipalities have already banned the sale or possession of salvia or limited its availability to minors, a route Ocean City also could take at the direction of the Mayor and City Council.

“I couldn’t imagine someone driving on this stuff,” said Council member Lloyd Martin, agreeing with the police department’s suggestion to ban the sale of salvia.

Council member Jay Hancock questioned the local effects of the drug.

“We’re getting complaints from parents, from citizens,” said Police Chief Bernadette DiPino.

OCPD Lieutenant Scott Kirkpatrick noted a few salvia-related incidents police have encountered on the Boardwalk.

The commission agreed to take the matter to the council level for concurrence on drafting legislation regarding salvia in the resort.