"We see this as the government confusing its own rules with respect to drugs," Boire said. "Yes, they have a responsibility with respect to public health, but they're confusing that with a responsibility to prevent people from altering their consciousness."
The question, he said, is deeper than the right to free speech — it is the right to control your own consciousness. The small number of people experimenting with salvia divinorum, and the even smaller number who want to repeat the experience, together with the lack of evidence indicating health risks make it clear that the herb is not a public health problem, he said.
"There needs to be a lot of thinking about whether doing something like this really does any good," he said. "If salvia divinorum is made illegal, to some people it's going to become more attractive. We worry about the knee-jerk reaction when we hear about people altering their consciousness and we think, 'What can we do about it?'"
An Oregon man who tried salvia divinorum said when he was younger he tried other hallucinogens such as peyote and psylocybin several times but didn't expect to repeat the Mexican herb.
"Nothing I had done prepared me for it — I mean I thought I knew what these things did to you," he said. "I found it valuable, I felt like it re-opened some things that maybe had started to close up in me, but I don't think I want to go back."
"I can't preclude there's something special about salvia divinorum because of the shaman connection," Halpern said. "It's a tool that's remained in the shaman's bag and that's probably where it should stay."