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ABC 4 INVESTIGATES: Is "Salvia" the new "Weed?"

SALT LAKE CITY (ABC 4 News) - Even the most vigilant parents who warn their children about the evils of illicit drugs may be missing one. It's called "Salvia" and it's perfectly legal.
SALT LAKE CITY (ABC 4 News) – Even the most vigilant parents who warn their children about the evils of illicit drugs may be missing this one: Salvia.

Young people, including teenagers, probably know about it. It’s said to be the most popular new way to get high.

What’s behind the rise in the underground popularity of what they’re calling a “New Weed?” Salvia – also known as Salvia Divinorum, “Sallie D,” and “Sticky Purple” -- is relatively cheap compared to pot, easy to find and – here’s the startling part -- perfectly legal.

At first glance, a clear, plastic bag of Salvia looks like marijuana. Its leaves resemble hemp but it’s actually a member of the sage family, a close relative of the mint plant. That is, until you dry, crush and smoke the leaves.

Salvia packs a bigger punch than pot. Examples of young people smoking it and getting high are easy to find. (Go to YouTube.com search the word “salvia.” You’ll find dozens of clips of teenagers “tripping” on the stuff.)

“It messes up kids way more than marijuana,” said one college student who spoke to ABC 4 on condition of confidentiality. “I've done it before and I didn't like how I acted on it. It didn't make me feel good. I learned the hard way, this stuff is just not a good thing to get into.”

Others sing the praises of Salvia. “It was spiritual for me but it was just eye-opening. It made me think more,” said another Salvia user.

A Salvia high can also cause uncontrollable laughter, even hallucinations. “It's just really weird,” said one college sophomore. “Everything’s like going in slow motion, and then when you come back, you’re fine.”

Experts say Salvia, unlike marijuana, has no medicinal purposes. Just like marijuana, it can produce mind-altering effects, in some cases, more powerful than pot, causing users to lose control of their motor skills. That can pose a big risk to anyone who thinks they’re capable of driving while under the influence of Salvia. (Watch my “Salvia” story on abc4.com and you can see one teenaged boy try to get in his car and drive after he smoked Salvia. The kid couldn’t even turn the key.)

All this foreboding information begs one question:

Why?


How can this happen in Utah?

Why, in a state with perhaps the toughest liquor laws in America, is this hallucinogenic smoking weed legal?

“We’ve been sitting on this thing for three years,” says State Representative Paul Ray of Clearfield.

Three years in a row, Representative Ray, a former undercover narcotic sofficer, has sponsored bills written to make Salvia a Class One substance, ranking it with the likes of cocaine and heroine. All three years, his measures have failed to pass into law.

When I ask him for an explanation, Ray points to an irony. “Last year, the DEA came in here and told us to hold off,” he says. “They told us they wanted us to wait and see what Congress was going to do about it. I tried to explain to them Congress wasn’t going to do anything about it, and they didn’t.”

Again this year, as the 2009 legislative session comes to a close, Representative Ray watches his anti-Salvia bill die in a rules committee - just another sheet of paper, buried beneath thousands of others. And again this year, this lone ranger worries about how many of Utah’s young people will walk into “head shops” around the Salt Lake Valley and buy a “nickel bag” for $50, with free coaching on how to smoke the stuff to get the highest high.

Easier than buying a pack of cigarettes, this popular “new weed” continues tobe a concern for this lawmaker, a mystery to most parents.

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