Miley Cyrus Brings Legal Drug Use to Headlines

Move over Wikileaks. We’ve got Miley Cyrus with a bong. Tripping on Salvia. On camera.

Seriously folks, this could be a big deal for drug policy.

Miley Cyrus practically is America. She’s adored by millions of children and adults alike. Her dad is responsible for making the mullet a temporarily acceptable haircut. And now lil’ Miley has to go and break his achy, breaky, heart with another bong rip heard round the world (Michael Phelps was the first).

Why should we care? Because this is the sort of crap that American drug policy is crafted on.

Salvia divinorum is a short acting psychoactive herb. It’s a member of the mint family and has been used in shaman ceremonies by the Mazatec Indians of Oaxaca, Mexico for thousands of years. It has already been banned in a number of states but not because its use was causing significant problems. It’s mostly because of high school kids tripping balls for about 5 minutes, video taping it and then posting to YouTube. Then all it takes is a tough on drugs politician to see one of those and you’ve got a campaign to make salvia illegal – as if the kids in these videos we’re using the bong as a paperweight when they weren’t legally buying salvia to pack it with. We have news for you – the bong’s main use is for smoking pot and that’s been illegal since 1937 but no one seems to have a hard time finding any to smoke.

Salvia’s effects are not typically considered pleasant by most people. It’s definitely not a party drug as the experience can be very intense and spiritual as well as very surprising for the first time user. It’s sold in pure leaf forms and in extracts at various strengths. It tastes disgusting and is known for being non-toxic and non-additive. But politicians present it as a serious danger to young people everywhere.

Delaware, Florida, Hawaii, Illinois, Kansas, Kentucky, Minnesota, Mississippi, Missouri, Nebraska, North Dakota, Ohio, Oklahoma, South Dakota and Virginia have made Salvia totally illegal – some placing it under Schedule I status. Other states like Lousiana, North Carolina, Tennesse and West Virginia have made it “only legal when not intended for human consumption,” essentially leaving it as a research chemical or decorative house plant. California (where Miley is during the incident), Maine and Maryland have taken a more sensible approach and placed age restrictions and laws against providing to underage persons. In Wisconsin you can possess it but you can’t grow it, give it away or sell it. And there’s a few more states that currently have pending legislation to ban Salvia.

Still, the federal government and DEA has yet to succeed in banning Salvia. But here’s why Miley Cyrus could be their secret weapon…

It’s the Len Bias effect. Len Bias was a University of Maryland basketball star who was picked up by the Boston Celtics in the 1986 NBA Draft. While celebrating his draft to the Celtics just two days after getting the news, he died of a cocaine overdose. The Speaker of the House at the time was Massachussets Congressman, Tip O’Neill. He was from Boston and when he saw how pissed off Celtics fans were about Bias’ death, he seized the opportunity to introduce mandatory minimum sentencing through the Anti-Drug Abuse Act of 1986. It made Democrats look tough (apparently there once was a time when this was occasionally possible for Democrats). The new laws based sentencing on the weight and type of drug, or the presence of a firearm. It created a 100-1 disparity in the sentencing for crack vs. powder cocaine, a disparity that devasted African-American communities and helped to skyrocket America’s prison population. It took 24 years to reform that that law with the Fair Sentencing Act which passed this year and didn’t do away with the disparity but lowered it to 18:1. It would turn out that Bias didn’t even die from crack cocaine, he was using powder.

Here’s the thing. Unlike Len Bias, Miley Cyrus doesn’t have to die to send parents and lawmakers into a frenzy over salvia. Apparently she doesn’t even have to break a single law – what she did was perfectly legal (the real crime was listening to Bush). She just has to appear like she’s a normal young adult having fun with her friends and that just maybe, she isn’t as cookie cutter perfect as Hollywood makes her seem. This provides politicians with needed support from Americans with love and nostalgia for Hannah Montana.

It’s not that the federal government hasn’t tried to ban salvia yet. In 2002 the Center for Cognitive Liberty and Ethics successfully stopped Congress from placing salvia in the Controlled Substances Act by arguing that it was inappropriate for scheduling and should be available for research. But politicians didn’t have a viral video of a teen pop sensation ripping bongs of a relatively mysterious substance and laughing hysterically in their arsenal then. Almost every lawmaker attempting to outlaw salvia has used YouTube videos of teenagers smoking it as evidence of why it should be prohibited – and there are lots of videos of people smoking this stuff online. Some of them have millions of views. And some show people looking pretty silly.

In 2008 Florida state Rep. Mary Brandenburgh introduced legislation that was signed into law by Gov. Charlie Christ making simple possession of salvia a felony that could carry a 5 year prison sentence. The DEA has stated that it could be possible for Savlia users to be prosecuted under the Federal Analogues Act:

“Salvia divinorum, Salvinorin A, and Divinorin A are not listed in the Controlled Substances Act. If sold for human consumption, S. divinorum may be subject to control under the Analogue statutes because of its functional pharmacological similarities to other CI hallucinogens like THC.”
— from DEA Diversion Salvia divinorum Page – Feb 2002

However, the drug resource website Erowid states that the DEA’s analysis is flawed as very little is actually known about salvia’s pharmacological properties.

So here we have this drug that most people are unfamilar with, a patchwork of state laws prohibiting or restricting the drug all around the country, failed attempts by the feds to make it a Schedule I, ambigous DEA interpertations of how to prosecute people federally and a video of an American teen icon smoking it spreading virally all over the internet. To me, it’s a recipe for prohibition that people like this guy are all too willing to cook up…

Former California State Assemblyman Anthony Adams tried to make salvia a Schedule I drug in 2007 but had to settle for age restrictions for purchasing and possessing it – making salvia legal for Miley Cyrus who is 18. Adams is already calling for the federal government to step in because of the Cyrus video. “It’s time for state and federal governments to renew their push toward an outright ban” he told TMZ.

I think it’s likely that they will. And soon.

I can see it now, “The Saving Hanna Montana from Hallucinogenic Herbs Bill of 2011.”