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Salvia divinorum

By Edward Ericson Jr. | Posted 2/6/2008

On the Agenda for Jan. 28

Land Sales: 08-0011--sell 98 city-owned acres in Anne Arundel County, map 5, parcel 247; 08-0013--sell 61-acre Pennington Avenue Landfill These two bills will put to market about 155 acres of industrial land straddling the city's border with Anne Arundel County around Curtis Bay.

Public Interest Grade: B, with reservations While it doesn't make a lot of sense for a municipality to sit on raw land, these parcels might be challenging to sell in this market. The old dump--actually about 65 acres, according to land records--began life in the 1970s as an illegal dumpsite and has had its share of environmental problems ("Down in the Dumps," Feature, July 3, 1996). The Anne Arundel land--which may be adjoining the dump but is hard to fix on a map--may be a better deal for the city, which bought it in 1987 from the Baltimore Development Corp.'s predecessor agency for $815,000. It is now assessed for tax purposes (which, of course, the city does not pay Anne Arundel County) at $16 million.

08-0032--Salvia divinorum--Prohibited Bans the possession of an herb sometimes called "diviner's sage," which has been used for centuries in Mexican shamanistic ritual and lately has been discovered by suburban kids looking for a new trip. The bill calls for a $500 fine and/or six months in jail for violators, and the council is also asking the state legislature to ban the substance statewide.

Public Interest Grade: F The council is jumping on an anti-Salvia bandwagon started a couple years ago when a Delaware teenager killed himself after smoking the drug. The boy's mom blamed Salvia, that state (and a few others) banned it, and a reefer-madness air now surrounds Salvia. Regulation probably makes sense--this is strong stuff not suitable for kids--but the council's bill is overbroad and could muck up real science. Roland Griffiths, the Johns Hopkins University neuroscientist who made headlines in 2006 after publishing a study using psilocybin mushrooms, says he's working on a proposal to study Salvia. "This is under active development, and that development process can be filled with regulatory land mines," says Griffiths, who obtained Drug Enforcement Administration approval to work with the illegal mushrooms, adding that Salvia is important to study because it "is very potent at a single receptor site--that means it's tweaking the nervous system in very specific ways." Shown the council bill, Griffiths asks how he can stop or modify it: "It's more than a hurdle--they don't have a provision in here that would allow any legitimate study of this. So that would be my concern."

08-0034 Food Service Facilities--Trans Fats Bans food-service facilities from possessing food containing trans fat, which is the superbad fat you get when you turn vegetable oil into a solid. Fries are full of trans fat, and so are pancakes, crackers, chips, cookies, fried chicken, etc. The good news is that you can substitute cooking oils and still get good fries.

Public Interest Grade: A. Baltimore is a lard-ass town, and chicken boxes ain't helping. New York and Philadelphia have already banned trans fats and the world has not ended. Ninth District Councilwoman Agnes Welch introduced this after heading up a study on childhood obesity. The science on trans fats is done; time to phase them out.

Fact of the Week

Of the 17 citizens nominated to the new Commission on Sustainability, three hail from the 11th District. Two each are from the 14th and 1st, and one each is from the 5th, 6th, 7th, 10th, and 12th. Not represented are the 2nd, 3rd, 4th, 8th, 9th and 13th councilmanic districts. Five people nominated are not listed from a city district--meaning out-of-town residents dominate.

Quote of the Week

"We know . . . this herb and the ripple effect of it--we think there needs to be a ban statewide." --7th District Councilwoman Belinda Conaway, introducing a resolution to ban Salvia divinorum in Maryland.

The next City Council meeting is scheduled for Feb. 11 at 5 p.m.

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