Government moves to criminalize hallucinogenic salvia

The federal government hopes to make the use and sale of a popular hallucinogenic herb a criminal offence.

The federal government confirmed Monday it hopes to make the use and sale of a popular hallucinogenic herb a criminal offence.

Conservative MP Shelly Glover announced the government's intentions to move the herb salvia divinorum into a category of the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act at a press conference in Winnipeg.

The potent hallucinogenic plant is sold openly online and in head shops across the country.

Health Canada has banned the sale or use of salvia without its authorization, but that hasn't prevented purveyors from advertising the herb as legal.

The agency believes no one should use salvia because very little is known about its long-term effects.

Currently, salvia — also known as magic mint and diviner's sage — is considered a natural health product.

Head shops openly sell vials of salvia extract for $20 to $80 per gram, depending on the potency.

Use among teens climbs

But more teens are abusing the herb, which creates safety risks including hallucinations, out of body experiences, loss of consciousness and memory loss, Glover said.

"The bottom line is that our teens face enough pressure already.  And with heavily covered stories of young people in Hollywood using salvia to get high, we have the responsibility to help protect our youth," she told reporters.

An estimated 1.6 per cent of Canadians 15 or older have already taken at least one ride on salvia, according to the 2009 Canadian Alcohol and Drug Use Monitoring Survey, the first to measure use of the plant.

For those 15-24, the number rises to 7.3 per cent.

A legislative process has begun to move the herb under Canada's Controlled Drugs and Substances Act, Glover added.

It could take up to two years to complete the legislative process to make the drug a controlled substance.

Police have long complained they're powerless to halt the sale of salvia, which has been known to produce some adverse reactions, including one case reported by Health Canada in 2006 in which an incoherent, suicidal teenage boy threatened to kill police officers.

Police have no jurisdiction to enforce natural health product regulations.

Glover did not say what penalties the government plans for those convicted of the illicit sale or use of salvia.

with file from The Canadian Press