Salvia Ban Looms in New York After Years of Fear Mongering, Bad Jokes

Salvia divinorum, the drug used most publicly by Miley Cyrus and Arizona shooter Jared Loughner, moved closer to being outlawed on Monday when the New York state Senate approved a bill banning the sale of the hallucinogenic herb. John Flanagan, the lawmaker who sponsored the legislation, called it a "gateway drug," and referred to the measure as "preventative." The ban has been a longtime coming and was likely sped up by the suicide of 21-year-old Ryan Santanna, who jumped after smoking salvia only two weeks ago. But the local media has been hyping the drug for years now, oscillating between novelty coverage and stories meant to spook. Just yesterday, the New York Daily News had a reporter smoke it on camera.

Irving DeJohn's review of the drug notes that salvia "didn't pack the punch that I was expecting, but the fleeting moments of euphoria were fun." He writes that, during the fleeting high, he felt like Gene Kelly. "I never saw any goblins jeering at me, the sky didn't fill with psychedelic colors and I never felt like I was hovering over the Empire State Building." Harmless and funny, right?

But in the same edition of the paper, after a prioritized Miley Cyrus joke, the tabloid includes paragraphs on Santanna's suicide and the reported usage of salvia by Loughner.

Back in 2008, state senators were already speaking out. "If we don't try to nip it in the butt, we could end up with many tragedies," said Sen. John Sampson of Brooklyn. Every day citizens were less concered, like the person the Post quoted saying, "I'll stick with my Budweiser." When Miley came along, the drug was a punchline again.

Only deaths seem to spur action. In Delaware, "Brett's law" refers to the banning of salvia three months after Brett Chidester died, high on the drug. In Florida, possession or sale can already land you 15 years in prison.

What's missing in a majority of cursory reports are things like science and fact. Only the New York Times bothered to mention salvia's medical uses, which "could open new frontiers for the treatment of addiction, depression and pain."

As for in our backyards, the bill could be passed as soon as June and would charge a $500 fine to anyone selling the drug.

[jcoscarelli@villagevoice.com / @joecoscarelli]


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