Salvia divinorum enjoys a much looser legal structure than other hallucinogenic drugs. In fact, federally, the plant is perfectly legal. There are, however, several states in the US with some form of salvia legislation. Which states are they? And how exactly do they regulate this plant?
What is salvia?
Salvia divinorum is one of several species of the Lamiaceae mint family. You might be more familiar with its sister-species Salvia officinalis, and Salvia rosmarinus, which account for the kitchen spices sage and rosemary, respectively. Salvia divinorum differs from other forms of salvia in that it contains salvinorin A, which creates a psychoactive and hallucinogenic response.
Salvia is said to hail from the Sierra Mazateca cloud forests in Oaxaca, Mexico, though this is technically unconfirmed. Thought it loves the moist and shady growing conditions of that particular environment, it can be found in many different locations worldwide, including in the US.
The plant gets its name from the word ‘divination’, and translate to “diviner’s sage” or “seer’s sage.” It was used in the rituals of Mazatec shamans for centuries for spiritual healing and divination; because it brings on altered states of consciousness, and hallucinations. There are indigenous cultures that still use it this way today. It’s also an oneirgen drug, meaning it’s used to enhance dreams while sleeping for the purpose of divination.
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The plant has a place in medical traditions. Salvia is used in the treatment of diarrhea, anemia, headaches, rheumatism, as a diuretic, and for ‘swollen belly’, considered a semi-magical disease. These uses require much lower doses than what is used to bring on psychoactive effects.
Salvia isn’t the most well-known drug, but it is still one of the more well-known of the hallucinogenic drugs. One recent study found that about 5% of the population in the US had used the drug before. Many erroneously refer to it as a psychedelic, but while it shares some similarities in causing hallucinations and otherworldly experiences, it is not technically in this category of compounds. Salvinorin A, the main active compound, is a potent agonist at κ-opioid receptors (kappa), and doesn’t affect serotonin receptors like psychedelics do.
It is known to bring on feelings of connectedness, like psychedelics, as well as sedation; disorientation in space and time; issues with motor control; analgesia; loss of memory; delusions and depersonalization; difficulty with language; laughing fits; sensory, auditory, and visual hallucinations; feelings of spirituality; and near-death experiences (or, rather, the feeling of it). It also messes with how people feel gravity, and how they feel their own physical form.
Since it’s not classified with psychedelics, and wasn’t popular at the time that the government went ahead and illegalized other hallucinogens; salvia retains legality in terms of the federal government. It does as well in many states, though there are several that have placed some kind of restriction on it, in the last several years.
States where salvia is restricted
Not every piece of legislation equals a complete illegalization. And even those that do have illegalization measures, vary in the penalties for infractions. It is true that more and more states have added on these policies, despite the federal government making no such move. Much like with magic mushrooms and mescaline, in some places, a loophole is created where the plant and the active compound are regulated differently.
Prohibit sale to minors
In some states, the only prohibition is on the sale of a product to a minor. This includes California, Maine, and New York. This is an interesting concept, of course, as there isn’t yet a sales market for the plant; however such a law comes into play when considering that the plant is federally legal, and a market can begin anywhere allowed.
What states have Schedule I for salvia?
Many states have proposed legislation here, but not all of it passed. Other states have put salvia in Schedule I of their controlled substances lists, although it can vary as to whether they include the whole plant, just the active compound, or both. The following have some form of a Schedule I ban: Alabama, Arkansas, Delaware, Connecticut, Florida, Hawaii, Illinois, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Michigan, Mississippi, Missouri, Nebraska, North Carolina, North Dakota, Ohio, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Wisconsin, and Wyoming.
That last one on the list, Wyoming, is also a great example of the salvia loophole, wherein one aspect is illegalized, while another is not. In Wyoming, the compound salvinorin A (apparently misspelled in the legislation) is the only thing listed, while the plant Salvia divinorum is not. This is also true in Wisconsin. This resembles both the mescaline loophole and the magic mushrooms loophole.
On the other hand, some states illegalized the plant, without naming the active compound itself, which makes one wonder what happens in the case of sales of salvinorin A extract. States that fit into this category include Delaware, Illinois, New York, and Louisiana, though Illinois does ban ‘extracts’ without mentioning salvinorin A. Plenty of states that passed legislation to ban the plant, did it this way, not mentioning the salvinorin A; and leaving gray area in terms of an extracts market.
States with lesser scheduling for salvia
Apart from barring the sale of a product to minors, some states instituted other policies that regulate either the plant or the active compound, but in a less severe way than Schedule I. As stated already, a couple states only bar the sale to minors, and do nothing else. Colorado holds salvia as a class B misdemeanor. Georgia simply regulates it as a ‘dangerous drug’, giving plenty of leeway as it is legal as a decorative plant. Of course, if you can have and grow it, not much to stop people from using it.
In Indiana, salvia is a Class A misdemeanor only, and in Minnesota its considered a Gross Misdemeanor. In New York, its prohibited for sale with a $500 fine max per incident, while in South Dakota, its either a Class 1 misdemeanor, or a Class 6 felony, depending on the amount (less than two ounces is a misdemeanor).
Tennessee regulates it as a Class D felony, but holds it legal for decorative use. As this includes possession, sale, and cultivation; it once again opens the door for use, even if use is technically illegal. In Texas its Penalty Group 3, but the legislation makes the stipulation that if its unharvested and growing in a natural state, then its okay. Rhode Island shows up in the Schedule I list, but in actuality, this only applies to ‘extracts’, and specifically doesn’t apply to the actual plant, so long as it is unaltered.
Other states, whether they tried to ban it or not, never did. These include: Alaska, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Jersey, New Mexico, Oregon, South Carolina, Utah, and Virginia. These states have absolutely no law against the plant, or the active compound in it, at least for now.
Things of note
None of these laws are actually recent from the last few years. Most happened between the years of 2007-2011, with just a few exceptions. This indicates that something happened around that time to introduce the plant to a wider audience in the US. Prior to this, its likely that no one was speaking about it at all. It’s quite possible that if it had become more popular at that time, that every state would have a ban.
There is nothing stopping the states that haven’t instituted a ban, from doing so, or for states with less strict policies, to adopt stricter ones. In a country where government doesn’t like industries it can’t control, it’s not weird to think this could and would happen. Salvia is similar right now to amanita mushrooms, which have even less restriction. They both share the quality of having not been around when similar drugs were illegalized last century.
What makes further banning less likely, is the changing climate toward psychedelics and hallucinogens in general. Colorado and Oregon have legalized some form of use, there are tons of decriminalization policies in individual locations, and more than 10 states have already announced psychedelics legislation in the works already this year. As most of these bills surround entheogenic plants, with new legislative measures opening it wider to include more plants, it makes the idea of illegalizing a plant now, not that popular an idea.
This doesn’t mean it can’t happen, of course. Governments are known to pass legal measures under the radar to avoid public scrutiny. But it also means that it might be more likely to have existing policies loosen, rather than to have more rigid ones introduced. We’ll have to wait and see.
Right now, salvia isn’t a real products industry, and its not spoken about as much as mushrooms, DMT, or synthetics like acid and MDMA. But one of the things we know in life, is that people like to get high, and they like to use plants to do it. With the ability for a market in many states, including ones with some – but not altogether limiting – legislation; it certainly seems like a salvia market, could be right around the corner.
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