Pop Goes The News — The hallucinogenic herb salvia divinorum is still being marketed to Canadians despite becoming illegal earlier this month.
Several retailers across the country have yet to remove salvia from their online offerings even though it has been a banned substance since Feb. 8.
Salvia divinorum (S. divinorum) is a sage species with psychoactive ingredients that can be extracted and concentrated to provide users with the same kind of high as ketamine, GHB and “magic mushrooms.”
S. divinorum “and its preparations and derivatives” are now included on Schedule IV of the Controlled Drug and Substances Act (CDSA), making “production, trafficking, possession for the purpose of trafficking, importation and exportation” illegal.
Maximum penalties range from one to three years in prison.
Possession of small amounts of salvia for personal use is not prohibited.
Ten days after being added to the CDSA, S. divinorum plants and dried leaves and extracts are listed on the website for Sacred Seed in Toronto.
The site contains a disclaimer that reads, in part: “Any purchase involves a certification by our customer that they have legal authorization to possess what they are buying, as well as an agreement that our customer will not act in conflict with any law.”
The Botanical Spirit Shop, based in Surrey, B.C., promotes S. divinorum leaves that are “very useful in solving personal problems, fighting addictions and discovering ones inner truth.”
According to its website, plants are shipped from a warehouse in Georgia. It instructs Canadian customers to make money orders payable to Hook’n’Stitch Inc. at an address in Surrey.
The company charges $41.30 for the plant plus an additional $34.34 for shipping and $5.37 HST.
Neither company responded to requests for comment so it is not known if they continue to sell salvia or have simply not updated their websites. (The decision to add salvia to the CDSA list was announced last November.)
(Update: In an email, Botanical Spirit Shop said it could not process an order for salvia. “We are sorry but Salvia is illegal in Canada as of Feb 8, 2016.”)
Ontario-based Richters informs visitors: “With regret Salvia divinorum is no longer available from Richters. In November 2015 Richters stopped growing and selling this plant in compliance with the Canadian government’s ban.”
Richters believes banning the live plant violates the rights of gardeners and herbalists “who wish to grow plants for their culinary, medicinal, historical or religious significance.”
The company said adding S. divinorum to the CDSA list is “a textbook example of overreaction” and “overreaching.”
Prior to becoming a banned substance, S. divinorum was classified by Health Canada as a natural health product, meaning it was regulated and could not be sold in Canada without approval from Health Canada — which it never did.
Many retailers and growers ignored the regulation or skirted it by selling salvia as an herbal incense product.
It took five years for Canada to add S. divinorum to the controlled substances list. The Conservative government announced its intention at a 2011 press conference in Winnipeg, where MP Shelly Glover — a former police officer — said her government had a “responsibility to help protect our youth.”
Prior to forming the government, the federal Liberal party criticized the plan to add salvia to the CDSA, citing a lack of evidence that it is harmful or has negative long-term effects.
Around the world, laws regulating S. divinorum vary wildly — from outright bans on sale and possession in places like Australia and Sweden to restrictions on sale to minors in some American states. (The U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration calls salvia a “drug of concern.”)
While ads for the sale of salvia in Canada appear to have disappeared from sites like Craigslist and Kijiji, it’s not difficult to find.
At TheBestSalvia.com, a gram of S. divinorum extract — labelled “for incense use only” — sells for $16.99 USD plus $8.00 shipping.. The online order form includes fields for Canadian provinces and postal codes but the California-based company’s terms of service states it “must be legal to sell and or purchase in your local city.”
It adds: “We only distribute [salvia] to states that legally accept out product.”
Salvia Dragon specifically prohibits shipping to 22 American states but does not mention Canada — and its online order form includes Canada.
Canada is not yet listed on the website of Salvia Monster as one of the countries where salvia is illegal. In fact, the site still states: “Salvia divinorum is not controlled in Canada. ”
The website for Netherlands-based Azarius, though, informs Canadian customers: “Unfortunately we cannot ship this product to your country.”
On YouTube, there are hundreds of videos showing the effects of a salvia high.
But, salvia has also been linked to the deaths of a number of young people, including 21-year-old Ryan Santana, who died in 2011 after smoking salvia and jumping from a 15th floor balcony in New York.
In 2010, Cassie Walde of Burnaby, B.C. was seriously injured when she jumped out a window after smoking salvia.