The following piece was published 26 June 2013, SBS World News Australia Radio.
By Ildi Amon
The Federal Government has announced it will impose an interim national ban on 19 synthetic drugs after Sydney teenager Henry Kwan plunged to his death after taking an LSD-like drug.
The Government says the ban will prohibit the sale and supply of the synthetic drugs for 120 days, giving states and territories time to update their laws to completely outlaw synthetic drugs.
Ildi Amon reports.
Federal Government attention has turned to synthetic psychoactive substances, drugs that mimic the highs of their illegal counterparts such as cannabis, methamphetamines and cocaine.
New South Wales imposed a temporary ban on a range of synthetic drugs in response to the death of 17-year-old Henry Kwan, who died after jumping from a balcony after taking a drug he bought online for two dollars.
The state's Fair Trading Minister, Anthony Roberts, introduced the temporary ban and urged the Federal Government to follow suit by imposing a permanent ban.
"What we need is a full, whole of government approach here, and this is where we need the Federal Government to join with us in banning these products permanently. I can do, and this government in New South Wales can do what it can with the resources and the legislation available to it. We will apply these bans, we will apply them ruthlessly. They come with fines of up to $1.1 million for corporations or retailers that sell them. But, again, we need these drugs also stopped at the border."
South Australia has also placed an interim ban on 19 potentially harmful synthetic drugs, including products called White Revolver, Skunk, Iceblaze and Slappa.
But while the Federal Government has now implemented a 120-day national ban, Federal Assistant Treasurer David Bradbury says it's not the most effective way to tackle the problem.
He is calling on the only two states not yet part of the the national poisons standard to use the interim ban period to adopt the national poisons scheme, making the sale of synthetic drugs a criminal offence.
"And anyone apprehended as a result of the sale and distribution of them (LSD-like drugs) should be locked up with the key thrown away. Rather than having these Fair Trade officials go in there and take the products off (sale). Fines will hurt people, but frankly people involved in this sort of activity should be subject to the full force of the criminal law."
Mr Bradbury says while many synthetic drugs are already banned in parts of Australia, suppliers are changing brand names and packaging to get around bans made under consumer laws.
He says synthetic drugs are dangerous substances that can kill and insists tougher measures should be taken.
"The sale and distribution of these drugs is organised crime. These are drugs that are killing people. They should be subject to the full force of the criminal laws and if stepping in and putting this national ban in place on an interim basis allows us to at least get some of the drugs off the shelves, to the extent that's the case until such time as the states adopt the national standard, then so be it."
The Eros Association says it represents synthetic drug retailers.
The group's Chief Executive Officer, Fiona Patten, says misinformation and ignorance are driving the debate around drugs.
Ms Patten says the Federal Government's ban is on brand names, not on particular chemicals or substances.
And she says this means certain harmful drugs may be left off the banned list while other potentially harmless drugs are banned.
"Prohibition does not stop people using drugs, it does not stop people being harmed by those uses, and we have to look at a way of regulating it. New Zealand has come to this point and they will be regulating and testing these types of substances before they are allowed on to the market. So they will have to prove themselves to be low-risk, they will have to be controlled as to where they're sold, how they're sold and who they're sold to. And this to us seems a far more pragmatic response to this emerging synthetic substances that we can't stop and we can't control just through prohibition."
Greens senator Richard Di Natale also questions the effectiveness of the government's plan, warning it may be an overreaction.
He says it's easy for manufacturers to get around regulations by creating slightly different versions of illegal substances, possibly creating even more dangerous drugs.
But David Bradbury has told the ABC the government's decision to ban 19 synthetic drugs is better than doing nothing.
"Well that sounds like a case of arguing that we wave the white flag and give up any efforts to try and make sure that we regulate an area where these drugs are clearly dangerous. They're drugs that can kill and will kill if we don't take action to protect the community against them."