MESQUITE — A Republican lawmaker from Waco is driving a campaign to criminalize salvia, an herb that can be bought legally but used as a powerful hallucinogenic drug.
"Parents are totally oblivious to what is going on," Rep. Charles "Doc" Anderson said Thursday at a public hearing about the drug.
Mr. Anderson introduced a bill during the 2007 legislative session to criminalize the drug, but it failed to get out of committee. When the Legislature meets again in January, he plans to introduce a new bill that would at least make it a misdemeanor to possess the drug.
At the meeting he passed around a colorful 20 milligram package of "Purple Sticky salvia" that sells for $20.99.
"It looks pretty innocuous," Mr. Anderson said. "You think it's a benign product."
Legal in most other states, salvia is available for purchase in at least a half dozen locations in the Dallas area, according to local retailers.
Smoked like marijuana or chewed like tobacco, salvia’s hallucinogenic effects begin within seconds and typically last up to a few hours, said Kurt Kleinschmidt, chief of toxicology at UT Southwestern Medical Center.
Dr. Kleinschmidt said the drug is gram for gram less potent than LSD, but it is one of the most powerful natural hallucinogens.
Youtube and MySpace are peppered with videos of teens and young adults on salvia trips, but Dallas area health officials say they haven’t seen many people seeking treatment for salvia usage.
"It's just something that we haven't captured yet in our triage. We have not had any clients admitted who are on salvia," said Cynthia Blackfox, an official at the Nexus Recovery Center in Dallas. "It will be something that we're looking for."
Mr. Anderson learned about the drug from Michael Campbell, a pastor at Silver Maple Chapel in Robinson who testified at Thursday’s hearing.
Last year, Mr. Campbell’s 17-year-old foster daughter disappeared one night. She showed up in the morning and was clearly stoned, he said. He learned about the drug from her friends.
"Soon as I found out it was legal I was stunned and amazed that kids could get access to something that powerful," Mr. Campbell said.
Matt Simpson, a policy strategist with the American Civil Liberties Union, told the committee that he objected to criminalizing the drug, suggesting that it would popularize it as "a forbidden fruit.”
"At some point you just have to arm our kids with the ability to say ‘no,’" Mr. Simpson said.