The Salvia Ban Wagon Makes a Stop in Dallas


The salvia ban wagon that I described in the December 2009 issue of Reason has arrived in Dallas, where I live. Under a new ordinance that took effect on Sunday, possessing, using or selling Salvia divinorum, a psychedelic member of the mint family, can trigger a citation and a $2,000 fine. The ordinance also bans K2 (a.k.a. spice), "incense" consisting of dried herbs sprayed with a synthetic chemical that is supposed to produce THC-like effects, along with paraphernalia intended for use with either drug. As usual, the law applies to adults, but its aim supposedly is to protect children. Dallas Mayor Tom Leppert explains:

More and more kids are using these products because they create the same effects as illegal drugs but currently are legal and easy to get. The fake marijuana and salvia are just as dangerous as the real thing, and we need to move now to stop them from being sold and used.

Leppert probably is right that the newly illegal drugs are about as dangerous as pot, which only reinforces the stupidity of this law. He is not right that salvia creates "the same effects" as marijuana, a claim that the local NBC affiliate uncritically repeats (as have various other news outlets). I've never tried K2, but I suspect it would be much more popular if it were a close approximation of marijuana.

Evidently salvia is now contraband in most of North Texas, since several other municipalties have adopted similar ordinances. State legislation—two of whose supporters appear in my Reason article, offering the best arguments they can muster for treating salvia as a public menace—still has not been approved. So far 20 states (up from 15 when I wrote my article) have enacted salvia bans, while three (California, Maine, and Maryland) have taken the much more sensible step of prohibiting sales to minors.

The Dallas ordinance raises some perplexing practical questions. Suppose you were researching an article about Salvia divinorum, and in the course of that research you bought some online. At the time you made this purchase, it was perfectly legal. But just by letting the unused portion sit in a drawer in your office for the last four days, you've been breaking the law, which you didn't even realize until somebody mentioned it at poker last night. What does the city officially expect you to do with this contraband it just created? You wouldn't want to risk transporting it to the police station or throwing it out in the trash. Probably the best option is to burn it.

Nick Gillespie noted the K2 crackdown in February.