Researchers aren't sure if salvia has long-lasting effects on the brain, but it seems that the active ingredient is eliminated quickly from the body, Roth adds. "We're not aware of really any deleterious effects physically," he says. "The biggest concern is somebody driving a car or wandering out on the street or something like that." On the other side, Roth notes that by classifying salvia as Schedule 1 drug, Florida and other states are making it much more difficult to study the plant and to advance any therapeutic uses of it. (Salvia divinorum is a different species from the common garden plant.)
While the herb has its defenders, many Floridians have praised their state's initiative. Jules Cohn, 53, an assistant state attorney for Broward County, Fla., says he was disturbed to find salvia on sale this June at a kiosk at Broward's Coral Square Mall. "I was surprised it was being sold at a mall open to the public, even if legal," he said. "A substance that is capable of producing such intense and automatic loss of motor control can be very dangerous not only to the person taking it but to others around them." Cohn pointed particularly to the risks of driving under the influence of salvia, whose effects include a decreased ability to interact with one's surroundings. "At least this bill will help to bring the dangers of this particular drug to light, he says.
Doris Carroll, the executive director of the Palm Beach County Substance Abuse Coalition, says that other states should follow Florida's example. "The scary part is the Web access," she says. "We need a unified system to say that this is bad enough, that it's illegal." In 2002, U.S. Rep. Joe Baca of California introduced legislation to list salvia as a controlled substance at the national level, but the bill did not make it to the floor for a vote.
Cecilia Garcia, a Chumash spiritual healer who has used salvia to make liniments for arthritis, has a different law in mind. Garcia, who accuses Florida and other states of going on a "witch hunt" and not respecting the religious freedom of others who still use the plant in ceremonies, would like to see salvia protected under the American Indian Religious Freedom Act. "It's not a party plant," she says. "That's an abuse we're not responsible for, nor should we be punished for it."