Could salvia soon be banned in Tennessee?

April 14, 2006

Plant related to sage can still be used for landscaping purposes

NASHVILLE – The Senate voted Thursday to prohibit consumption of a plant with hallucinogenic properties, though it can still be grown and harvested "strictly for aesthetic, landscaping or decorative purposes."

The bill by Sen. Tim Burchett, R-Knoxville, applies to Salvia Divinorum A, an herb related to sage that is native to parts of Mexico. Burchett said he filed the bill after learning the plant is hallucinogenic and available in the Knoxville area, as well as being sold over the Internet. There is no federal law prohibiting sale or usage of the plant, though the Food and Drug Administration is considering a change in its status to make it illegal, Burchett said.

After introducing the bill, the senator received an e-mail message criticizing his proposal, saying the plant should be restricted to prevent use by youths, but not prohibited.

"It can, when used properly, provide the seeker with what is known as ‘Primary Religious Experience,’ a state comparable to the Ecstasy of the Saints or being filled with the spirit at a revival. It would be sinful and unlawful to deny that experience to those who seek a closer relationship with their Creator," said the e-mail.

The sender of the e-mail, who used the title "reverend" before his name and indicated that he lived in Knoxville, could not be reached for comment. Burchett said the e-mail actually encouraged rather than discouraged his efforts to pass the bill.

Still, the measure was softened somewhat by an amendment before winning unanimous passage by the Senate. As drafted, producing or distributing the plant would have been a felony punishable by up to 12 years in prison. Legislative staff estimated that would cost the state more than $180,000 per year to house the resulting prisoners.

With the amendment, the punishment is a Class A misdemeanor, punishable by up to 11 months, 29 days in jail and a fine of $2,500. That eliminated most of the estimated cost.

The revised measure also declares it permissible to grow the plant "strictly for aesthetic, landscaping or decorative purposes" and says the ban does not apply to the herb if sold as a "homeopathic" medicine approved by the FDA. Burchett said the FDA does not list the plant as a homeopathic medicine so that sales in Tennessee stores will be prohibited.

The bill now goes to the House, where it is sponsored by Rep. Parkey Strader, R-Knoxville. Strader said Burchett will join him in explaining the measure to a committee next week.

A Web site devoted to the plant ( says that only one other state, Louisiana, has outlawed it. A recent CNN report said the Delaware Senate had voted to make the plant illegal and the House is expected to concur. The report focused on a 17-year-old Delaware youth whose parents believe use of the plant was a factor in his suicide.

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