BERLIN – One week after Worcester passed its own version of a ban on the hallucinogenic drug Salvia, law enforcement officials in the county at-large are mapping out their own strategy for upholding the new law.
Last week, the County Commissioners unanimously passed an emergency bill banning the possession or sale of the hallucinogenic herb salvia divinorum, or simply salvia, following the lead of the town of Ocean City, which passed its own ordinance banning the substance in early August. Like their Ocean City counterparts, Worcester County Sheriff’s Department officials are now feeling their way through the enforcement side of the equation with an early emphasis on eliminating the substance at its source.
When Ocean City passed its ban on salvia in August, one of the main concerns was that the purveyors of the now-illegal drug would set up shop in the unincorporated areas on the west side of the bay. County Commissioner Linda Busick said last week the Ocean City ban did push salvia sales into West Ocean City, and, according to Worcester County Sheriff’s Chief Deputy Doug Dods, the known outlets for the drug were among the first targeted with the new county law.
“Right off the bat we knew of two stores in the county that were selling it,” he said. “It was passed as an emergency ordinance so it became effectively immediately when the commissioners voted on it. We had deputies go by the two stores we knew of and told them what had happened and told them to get rid of it as soon as possible.”
Ocean City police were out on the Boardwalk the day after resort officials passed their version of the ban, and while they didn’t exactly knock down doors, they did eventually charge some shopkeepers under the new ordinance for possession. Dods said county officials would likely follow a similar tack.
“We’re trying to be reasonable about it,” he said. “We’re giving them a limited amount of time, a grace period of sorts. When we feel we’ve given them enough time to get the stuff off their shelves, we’ll go in with strict enforcement.”
After the initial compliance checks, Worcester County law enforcement officials will continue to follow up with future checks to ensure the now-illegal drug does not find its way back onto the shelves, according to Dods.
“We’ll go in and do compliance checks, just like we do with alcohol compliance where we send a deputy in and try to buy it,” he said. “If they’re found with it still on their shelves, or if our guys are able to buy it, then they’ll be faced with the stiff penalties spelled out in the ordinance.”
While the county’s new law covers everything from sales to possession of salvia, the initial thrust of the enforcement effort will be on the former. The belief is, if the source of the illegal narcotic is removed, its continued spread and use will also dry up. However, law enforcement officials will also be on the lookout for individuals in possession of salvia.
“The initial part of this is to get it out of the stores,” said Dods. “We’re trying to nip it at the source. If an individual is caught with it, it becomes a case of simple possession with all that entails. The way the law is written, simple possession carries a maximum of six months in jail and/or a $1,000 fine.”
Again, one of the reasons behind the new county ordinance is a concern the drug will find its way into venues in West Ocean City and other areas in close proximity to the resort, but Dods said there are indications salvia use is not limited to just certain areas of Worcester, and enforcement efforts would be carried out throughout the county.
“Our enforcement efforts will cover the entire county and not just the areas in and around Ocean City,” he said. “We got the word through various sources that this is being used as much by the locals as it is the transient population around the resort areas.”
While Ocean City has its own ban on salvia in place, other jurisdictions in the county have not made any moves to approve their own ordinances as of yet. Dods said the bill passed by the commissioners last week covers the county’s three other municipalities and all of the at-large areas.
“Since it’s a county code, it applies in all of our municipalities,” he said.
A common concern voiced during the passage of the two salvia bans, first in Ocean City and last week in the county at-large, is that the common herb could be grown in almost any backyard garden, but Dods said this week the particular strain used for hallucinogenic purposes was likely a hybrid that needed very specific conditions to thrive.
“Despite so much being said about salvia growing as an herb in people’s gardens, we’ve learned the conditions here aren’t right for it and it couldn’t be grown in our area without an elaborate grow-room system,” he said.
Meanwhile, Dods said he has talked to known salvia users to get a better understanding of the narcotic.
“The folks I’ve talked to who have experienced it have told me it is nasty stuff,” he said. “They told me the loss of control is worse even then LSD. They say the loss of control is unpredictable because there are different concentrations of it out there. The information on it shows the periods of loss of control can range from 10 minutes to two hours.”