Generally Salvia divinorum is legal in most countries in the world and, within the United States, legal in the majority of States. However, a few politicians have called for its prohibition. At the time of writing, most of these proposals have not made it into law, with motions having failed, stalled or otherwise died, for example in the United Kingdom, at national level in the United States, and at more local level within States such as Alaska, Illinois, Oregon and Wyoming.
This section summarises some of the arguments and contentions made with regard to the legal status of Salvia divinorum.
A reason for Salvia's favourable legal status so far is that there's been no evidence to suggest that its use is problematic. Salvia divinorum is not a newly discovered or synthesised drug. It has been revered for perhaps centuries by the Mazatec people of Oaxaca, Mexico as a sacred plant, capable of facilitating spiritual experiences. It is a plant that has been available in the States and other countries since the 1990's, following the experiment and report of Daniel Siebert and others. The rise of the Internet since the mid-1990s saw the growth of many businesses selling dried Salvia leaves, extracts and other preparations. During the 10-15 years in which it has become more available in modern Western culture police have not been reporting it as a significant issue with regard to public order offences. Medical experts, accident and emergency rooms have not been reporting cases that suggest particular health concerns. Salvia divinorum is not generally understood to be toxic or addictive.
Salvia has some effects
Despite the lack of evidence against Salvia divinorum, some have succeeded in pushing though their anti-Salvia laws, such as in Australia (the first country to ban it), and in a few American States. To justify prohibition some politicians have argued that Salvia's effects are "LSD-Like" and that this alone is sufficient to raise alarms about its safety. Many Salvia media stories also headline with comparisons to LSD. However, while LSD and Salvia's active constituent salvinorin A may have comparative potencies, in the sense that both can produce their effects with low dosage amounts, they are otherwise quite different. LSD is a wholly synthetic drug, salvinorin A occurs in only nature and has yet to be synthesised. The two substances are not chemically similar or related. They are ingested in different ways. They produce different effects, which manifest themselves over different timescales. The effects of Salvia when smoked typically last for only a few minutes as compared to LSD, whose effects can persist for 8-10 hours.
Another argument made against Salvia, while conceding that not much is known about it and that it may not be a particular problem at the moment, is that legislation is needed to stop it becoming a problem in the future. For example, Senator Randy Christmann (R) stated - "we need to stop this before it gets to be a huge problem not after it gets to be a huge problem" and Assemblyman Jack Conners argued -"Salvia divinorum use may not be a runway epidemic, but it certainly is a phenomenon that warrants attention. We should take preventive steps now to prevent wholesale problems later on...".
Others have banned it
There also seems to be the implication that because a few other States or countries have banned Salvia divinorum then it follows that there must obviously be a problem with it. For example, in October 2005 MP John Mann raised an ultimately unsuccessful Early Day Motion calling for Salvia to be banned in the UK, saying - "The Australians have clearly found a problem with it. There's obviously a risk in people taking it."
What about the children?
While not objecting to some form of legal control, in particular with regard to the sale to minors or sale of enhanced high-strength extracts, most Salvia proponents otherwise argue against more prohibitive measures. Some countries and States such as Missouri have imposed the strictest Schedule I or equivalent classification against Salvia divinorum even in its natural and untreated form.
Salvia's supporters argue that such extreme measures as total prohibition are mainly due to a particular cultural taboo about certain altered states of consciousness - an inherent prejudice rather than the actual balance of evidence. They point to inconsistencies in attitudes toward other more toxic and/or addictive drugs such as alcohol and nicotine.
Those advocating consideration of Salvia divinorumís potential for beneficial use in a modern context argue that more could be learned from Mazatec culture, where Salvia is not really associated with notions of drug taking at all and it is rather considered as a spiritual sacrament. In light of this it is argued that Salvia divinorum could be better understood more positively as an entheogen rather than pejoratively as a hallucinogen.
Other entheogenic plants with traditions of spiritual use include peyote (and other psychoactive cacti), iboga, virola, ayahuasca (an admixture of plants containing DMT + MAOI), and various types of psychoactive fungi.
In fact, US legislation specifically allows two of these to be used in a spiritual context. The Native American Church is allowed to use peyote and Uniao do Vegetal (or UDV) is permitted ayahuasca. Although not consistently granted (again varying from State to State), the principal grounds for such concessions are Constitutional, with further grounds following from the Religious Freedom Restoration Act.
There haven't been any publicised prosecutions recorded under any Salvia laws. Legislation will prove impossible to police in practice. The plant has a nondescript appearance; the leaves are not distinctive and it does not have a distinctive odour like cannabis. Salvia divinorum looks like and can be grown as an ordinary houseplant without the need of special equipment such as hydroponics or high-power lights.