WORCESTER VOTES TO BAN SALVIA
Anyone Found In Possession Could Face Up To $1,000 Fine, Six Months In Jail
SNOW HILL -- The hallucinogenic herb salvia is now illegal in Worcester County, following the unanimous approval of the ban by the County Commissioners.
Under the new law, anyone found in possession of the drug or any paraphernalia could face up to a $1,000 fine or six months in jail.
With the blessing of the Maryland attorney general, Ocean City passed its own ordinance that went into effect at the beginning of August. Two people face prosecution later this month under the town's law. Businesses stocking salvia had no time to clear the products from their shelves before being subject to the regulations, which went into effect Tuesday afternoon. There is no official grace period. Officials are leaving notification of retailers up to the media and "discretion in the early stages" by police, said Worcester County State's Attorney Joel Todd.
"They are businesses, they are in Worcester County -- I think the Sheriff's Department and the state police have enough sense to deal with them," Commissioner Virgil Shockley said.
With the law, Worcester became the first county in Maryland to ban the substance. Salvia is an herb that, when smoked, inhaled or ingested, is known to produce intense hallucinogenic episodes. The drug is illegal in 12 states, including Delaware and Virginia.
Attempts by local delegates to institute a statewide ban failed in the legislature earlier this year.
With the drug already illegal in Ocean City, officials have been concerned that salvia may become more prevalent in the rest of the county. Commissioner Linda Busick -- who sponsored the bill -- said she had found at least one West Ocean City business that has begun stocking the herb.
"( The owner ) said that when it became illegal in Ocean City, he purchased the stock and brought it to his store about a week ago," Busick said, adding that he described it as a "business venture."
The county legislation "is pretty much lifted word for word" from Ocean City's regulations, said County Attorney Sonny Bloxom. The town's mayor and council issued a letter of support for the county ban, calling it necessary to maintain the health and well-being of the community.
Little is known about the use of salvia in Worcester, since reporting was not required while the substance was legal, said Dr. Andrea Mathias, deputy director of the Worcester County Health Department. There is also no proof that the herb is addictive, she said, although its characteristics are similar to those of other hallucinogens.
"It does fit the chemical nature of other drugs that are currently on the schedule and regulated in the hallucinogen category," Mathias said.
Officials are optimistic that the law in Worcester will spur the need for a statewide ban and eventually, federal action.
"The pattern in this country so far is that the states and municipalities will make the decisions first and the Drug Enforcement Administration will follow," Mathias said.