In the name of God, leave salvia alone!

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John Whitehead says that bills like HB21, Del. John O’Bannon’s measure to make salvia a Schedule 1 drug, “are not carefully thought out.” The president and founder of The Rutherford Institute, a libertarian legal organization based in Charlottesville, and well-known advocate of marijuana decriminalization, says, “They’re knee-jerk reactions to a problem.” When dealing with any drug, Whitehead says, two issues have to be considered: medical potential and religious freedom. Many studies are underway into the plant’s potential medical benefits, including a possible treatment for cocaine addiction, and a whole mess of diseases like bipolar disorder, Alzheimer’s, schizophrenia, cancer and HIV. Most states considering its criminalization aim to make salvia a Schedule I drug, which, by definition, has no medical use. O’Bannon says that he has “no desire to inhibit research,” but criminalizing it will leave doctors with a conundrum: While Schedule I drugs can be tested for medical benefits, the high illegality of the drugs means that most scientists find such testing difficult to pursue.

John O’Bannon

“It’s the same thing as Peyote,” Whitehead says. “It can be dangerous if yuppies are sitting around chewing it up,” but Native Americans should be allowed to use it in the practice of their religion. In fact, salvia has a long tradition among Mazatec shamans.

For his part, O’Bannon acknowledges that criminalizing salvia is a civil liberties issue, saying, “That’s not something you do lightly. …That’s the balance we have to strike.”