Drug law with local ties passes Senate

The Alabama Senate voted this week to outlaw several products that have similar effects to marijuana, LSD and other potent legal drugs.

Pending Gov. Bob Riley signing the bill into law, one of the items that will now be unlawful to purchase or use in Alabama is a powerful hallucinogenic known as salvia divinorum.

The Senate voted 24-0 Thursday to give final approval to a bill by Democratic Rep. James Gordon of Saraland that makes it a crime to have salvia divinorum. Possession of salvia will become a misdemeanor punishable by up to a year in jail. Selling salvia and the other products becomes a felony punishable by one to 10 years in prison.

Franklin County District Attorney Joey Rushing brought the issue of salvia use to light in the summer of 2007 after a group of local teenagers told him about the growing popularity of salvia use.

He helped spearhead an effort, which was led by Sen. Roger Bedford and Rep. Johnny Mack Morrow, to have it banned statewide.

“I became familiar with it through conversations with local teenagers and youths who made me aware that it’s being used here locally,” Rushing said.

Salvia is a legal plant often sold at tobacco shops or on the Internet and is becoming popular among teenagers and young adults who are crushing it and drinking it like a tea or who actually chew the plant.

It is a powerful hallucinogenic herb that is a member of the sage plant family and is legal in most all areas of the country, with a few exceptions.

“It has taken a couple of years, but I am glad to see the Legislature has taken measures to make salvia illegal,” Rushing said.

The Drug Enforcement Administration had listed salvia as a drug of concern and considered classifying salvia as a Schedule 1 drug, such as LSD, PCP or marijuana. Salvia effects have been compared to those drugs.

Studies show that salvia’s effects are relatively short, lasting anywhere from 10 minutes to 30 minutes, but are quite powerful.

Studies do not indicate that people become addicted to the drug, however.

Salvia is marketed and sold as producing a high, which induces an intense, dreamlike experience that can be unpleasant or frightening for first-time users.

Studies have shown that Salvinorin A, a component of the drug, works in the same place in the brain as morphine and related pain reducers known as opioids.

“It can be bought on the street or over the Internet,” Rushing said. “Some places even have cafes and bars where you can use it in a controlled environment. The problem is, most of these kids who get their hands on salvia are not in a controlled environment. They are sitting around with their friends using it and then you never know what might happen.”

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