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St Peters Police and Mayor Want to Restrict Sales of Herb
by Susan Weich
Jan 22, 2002
Originally published in St Louis Post-Dispatch
St. Peters is poised to limit the sale of an herb that has been reported by a Web site to have LSD-like effects, and in so doing could become the first city in the nation to restrict the substance.

The herb, Salvia divinorum, can be sold legally to anyone and currently can be bought at two stores in St. Peters. Another shop, a candy store that recently stopped selling the herb, was in the Mid Rivers Mall.

Local emergency rooms have reported no instances of patients who are under the influence of the herb, but doctors are aware of it, officials say.

Police and Mayor Tom Brown first heard about the substance when another business owner at the mall complained, saying he had seen young teens frequenting the store to buy salvia.

"We wanted to reassure parents that 12- and 14-year-olds are not going to be able to save up their allowance to buy this - at least not in St. Peters," said Sgt. David Kuppler of the St. Peters Police Department.

The restriction St. Peters seeks is modeled after the state's tobacco law. If it passes at Thursday's council meeting, no one younger than 18 will be able to buy it. A majority of alderman indicated during last week's work session that they would approve the measure.

According to a Web site run by erowid.org, an online library of information about psychoactive plants and chemicals and related topics, Salvia divinorum originated in the Oaxaca region of Mexico where it was used by the Mazatec Indians for healing and religious ceremonies.

"Depending on the dosage, the salvia experience can vary from a subtle, just-off-baseline state to a full-blown psychedelic experience," the Web site says. "At higher dosages, users report dramatic time distortion, vivid imagery, encounters with beings, travel to other places, planets or times, living years as the paint on a wall or experiencing the full life of another individual."

Long-term side effects of the herb are not known, but the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration has added salvinorin A, the active ingredient in salvia, to its list of drugs of concern.

Additionally, U.S. Rep. Joe Baca, D-Calif., introduced a bill last fall to make the substance illegal, but it has not been voted on yet.

St. Peters Police Chief Tom Bishop has been in contact with Baca in his investigation of the substance. Bishop said he had found no claims of legitimate benefits for users of the herb.

Australia has outlawed the herb completely, giving it a classification similar to crack, heroin and PCP.

Another Web site, one for the Center For Cognitive Liberty & Ethics, lists St. Peters as the first U.S. city to propose a restriction on the herb. In October, St. Peters was one of the first cities in the nation to put restrictions on ephedrine, an ingredient in cold and allergy medications that is used to manufacture methamphetamine. Retailers in St. Peters must keep products containing ephedrine and pseudoephedrine behind the counter.

Salvia is sold by the gram and retails for $20 to $33, depending on the potency of the herb.

To achieve its hallucinogenic effects, users inhale the fumes after igniting them and, in some instances, chew the leaves.

Sgt. Mike Grawitch of the St. Charles County Regional Drug Task Force says that even though members of the task force have not seized any of the herb during drug arrests, he believes salvia should be controlled.

"It's just a matter of time before we start seeing it," he said. "It seems like a legal LSD or mescaline."

Gary Grafeman, owner of Retro-Active, one of the two shops in St. Peters that sells salvia, agrees that the herb should be restricted to adults.

His shop in the 400 block of Mid Rivers Mall Drive posts warnings that customers must be 18 years old to buy legal herbs, including salvia.

Grafeman, 46, his wife and daughter all say they have tried the herb and got differing results. They say the effects happen immediately after inhaling the fumes and last for about 10 minutes.

Grafeman says his customers range in age from 20 to 60. He gives all of them a brochure that tells them about salvia and how to use it. The shop sells between 10 and 15 bags of the herb a week.

Aldermen in St. Peters had initially wanted to outlaw the substance altogether, but City Attorney Randy Weber said they didn't have the authority to do so.

Kuppler said that police were not even aware of salvia until about six months ago. He said that police had been torn about their decision to educate the public about salvia.

"You're always taking the risk that the publicity is going to cause some people who didn't know about salvia to try it, but we felt we had to let the parents know what was going on," he said.

Correspondent Bryan Edwards contributed to this report.