Lawmakers are trying to outlaw a hallucinogenic drug known on the streets as "Sally D" before it spreads through Alaska.
Salvia divinorum is legal in every state except Louisiana and Missouri, though several other states are reviewing different forms of regulation.
A spokesman for users testified Wednesday, April 12, to Alaska lawmakers that Sally D's hazards are exaggerated, and it should remain legal. But Senate Bill 313, sponsored by Sen. Gene Therriault, R-North Pole, would list the drug as a controlled substance, effectively banning it in Alaska.
"I find this scary, myself," said Sen. Gary Wilken, R-Fairbanks, who sits on the Senate Health, Education and Social Services Committee.
The panel on Wednesday voted to move the legislation to the Senate Judiciary Committee. SB 313 does not have a companion bill in the House.
The substance originates in the mountainous regions of Mexico. Historically, the Mazatec Indians have used it for various purposes.
Users of Sally D say the drug causes a heightened sense of colors, time distortion, a sense of falling, audible voices, fully formed visions and out-of-body experiences.
The most common methods of getting the drug are through the Internet, select tobacco shops and local dealers. Users typically smoke the leaves, though it can also be eaten or consumed as a tea.
"My goodness, a kid could click a mouse and 'boom' have this stuff sent to them," said Therriault aide Dave Stancliff. During the committee meeting, Stancliff said there are some 10,000 Web sites that sell Sally D.
Users are attracted to the drug because it's legal, Stancliff said.
"We've heard of it," said Jason Van Sickle, investigator with the Juneau Police Department at the drug enforcement unit. "I'm not saying it's not here, it just hasn't come across our desk at this point."
The Black Market, a tobacco shop in Anchorage, sells quantities of salvia divinorum for $35 to $80, according to manager Rachael Boelens.
Tougher mixing zone legislation fizzles
A bill to toughen up the state's rules for pollution in fish-spawning areas fizzled Wednesday, April 12, in the House Resources Committee.
Rep. Jay Ramras, R-Fairbanks, the House Resources co-chairman, said he is setting aside House Bill 328 because it could harm placer miners in his Interior district.
The decision came as a disappointment to fishermen and environmentalists, as well as some legislators.
"I thought they had worked with the placer miners to address their concerns ... . This (bill) is what Alaskans wanted," said Rep. Beth Kerttula, D-Juneau, a co-sponsor of the bill.
Given time constraints at this point in the session, the bill is unlikely to make it through the Legislature this year, Kerttula said.
That's too bad, Kerttula said, given that hundreds of Alaskans had testified in support of the legislation.
"This bill was strongly supported by fishermen and the vast majority of Alaskans because it provides better protection for our wild salmon," said Jeff Brubaker, a legislative coordinator for the Southeast Alaska Conservation Council.
There is some disagreement between fishermen and organizations about whether the state's regulations for pollution-dilution "mixing zones" in spawning areas are good enough.
Some fishermen have complained that the bill, sponsored by Rep. Paul Seaton, R-Homer, doesn't even go far enough to protect fish from pollution.
The United Fishermen of Alaska, a statewide group, was satisfied by the state's decision last year to retain its ban on mixing zones in spawning areas, after its initial bid to lift the ban.
Mixing zones are areas in a stream where excess levels of pollution are allowed to dilute down to state water quality standards.
Seaton, however, said the state law had loopholes, such as not giving as much protection to resident fish as to salmon.
The bill has faced serious opposition from the Alaska Mining Association, the state's trade association for miners. Last week, the group's executive director, Steve Borell, told the Resources
Committee that the bill would devastate the livelihood of placer miners.
Passing the 90-day mark
The Alaska Legislature over the weekend of April 8-9, passed the 90-day mark, when some lawmakers would like sessions to end.
But with several major bills outstanding, the operating and capital budgets incomplete and an oil-tax reform plan brewing in committees, legislators are far from finishing their business for the year.
As the session is set to end May 9, legislators and the administration speculate there will be two special sessions this summer - one to review a possible natural gas pipeline contract and another preceding it to include a new oil tax structure in the contract.
Alaska lawmakers calling for future sessions to be shorter still say their goal is realistic.
"Sure we can do our work in 90 days. This Legislature hasn't. The first 45 days hardly anything happened here at all," said Rep. Eric Croft, D-Anchorage, a candidate for governor.
Voters will determine in November the length of future sessions, as a ballot initiative would shorten them from four months to three.
Croft co-sponsored House Bill 22 along with seven House Republicans, calling for a 90-day session.
Several legislators think a 90-day session would be bad for government.
"In my opinion, I think it does a disservice to Alaskans," said House Speaker John Harris, R-Valdez.
House Majority Leader John Coghill, R-North Pole, agrees that shortening lawmakers' time in Juneau would diminish the public's voice in government.
Rep. Jay Ramras, a Fairbanks Republican sponsoring the ballot initiative, said the problem lies with too many bills being introduced, procrastination and political wrangling.
Reported by the Juneau Empire