Send in the Scientists

A story that highlights: the apparent lack of scientific input into government policy. The effectiveness of anonymous dissident websites…

A proposal to amend the Federal Criminal Code Act could see a number of plants species become outlawed.

The proposed schedule reads as follows:

  • Any plant containing mescaline including any plant of the genus Lophophora.
  • Any plant containing DMT including any plant of the species Piptadenia peregrine
  • Salvia divinorum EPL. & Jativa (Diviners Sage)
  • Mitragyna speciosa Korth (Krantom)
  • Catha edulis Forsk (Khat)
  • Any species of the genus Ephedra which contains ephedrine
  • Any species of the genus Brugmansia Pers.
  • Any species of the genus Datura L.

The government (Attorney General’s department) sought consultation on the proposed schedule via its website. Industry was not offered input into the consultation paper.

Somehow the consultation paper was found and a concerned grower notified the peak industry body Nursery Garden Industry Australia (NGIA)

An anonymous dissident website was set up here This group consisted of concerned academics, gardeners and the nursery industry.

Through social media [and some press] this website captured 2,510 submissions.

The concern regarding the proposed drug schedule were ‘the blanket ban’ approach and the seemingly lack of scientific data, including plant taxa, to classify the precursors or drugs.

Also there was community and industry consensus that Brugmansia and Datura should be excluded.

Dr Anthony Kachenko (NGIA) was also concerned about the lack of scientific data and input from industry.

No comment was received from the Attorney General’s department regarding any of these concerns and no success in determining who was involved in the committee that put together the schedule, apart from the fact that it has been disbanded.

This committee put together a document called ‘Code of Practice for supply diversion into illicit drug manufacture.” The parties involved appear on the back page of that document and include Science Industry Australia. However, they have denied any input into the proposed drug schedule.

This schedule also has a potential impact on the Native Food Industry who use wattleseed from Acacia sp. Some Acacia sp contain DMT. Australian Native Food Industry Limited (ANFIL) has invested lots of $s in projects with RIRDC on the toxicological data of some Acacia sp. Was this data taken into consideration? ANFIL also raises its concern at a ‘blanket ban.’

Repeated requests [ongoing] to the Minister’s department via email and phone have failed to answer any of the concerns raised in submissions or who was involved in the committee that put together the proposed schedule. Maybe its time to initiate a FOI request?

This entry was posted in Branch Notices, Discuss, Mailing List, National, Policy, Qld, Uncategorized and tagged , by Susan Kirk. Bookmark the permalink.

About Susan Kirk

Susan Kirk is a freelance science journalist, with a degree in journalism and qualifications in horticulture. She has written for many different publications but lately writes extensively for Fairfax media. She wrote a number of the Taste booklets (Global Food and Wine) which showcased Australian produce and producers and even did a stint as a restaurant critique. She loves growing, cooking and consuming food so over the years the interest in ornamental plants turned into an interest in food plants, especially herbs. She is a member of the Media Alliance, and is a member of and the Queensland web editor for the Australian Science Communicators.

One thought on “Send in the Scientists

  1. This is a succinct summary of the situation involving the proposed scheduling. I'm pleased to see the ASC taking an interest in the matter, because science, evidence, and rationality have been conspicuously absent in the Attorney General's department's actions in the process.

    Several additional points warrant mention or repetition here, for the sake of completeness:

    1) Almost all of the proposed species, and the active constituents therein, are of negligible negative societal impact, either in terms of adverse mortality or mordidity consequences, or in terms of cost to the health sector. They certainly do not compare with the currently-scheduled heroin, amphetamines, cocaine, cannabis and similar illicit drugs which do have demonstrable negative effects.

    The move to schedule these plants and their constituents appears to be an example of "bracket creep" resulting from a need to justify ongoing existence of bureaucratic positions, or from ideological aversion to certain activities, or from political posturing to the voting public, or from a combination of some or all of these.

    2) None of these plant species represent an actual, or indeed even a potentially credible, source of income for the "illicit drug trade", for organised crime, or for terrorism, which was the primary stated motivation for scheduling the species in the first place.

    3) Another reason given for the proposed scheduling was to bring State and Federal legislation into line. There are good arguments to be made that some State legislation is over-reactive and not based on credible pharmacological, epidemiological, sociological or economic evidence, and attempting to match Federal legislation to such State legislation is ill-advised.

    4) There is a suggestion to"extend" the definition of a precursor, ostensibly to separate serious crime from not-so-serious crime:

    "…consideration could be given to narrowing the definition of ‘drug’ so that it
    captures only listed substances, while adopting an extended definition of ‘precursor’. This would
    ensure that chemicals that would otherwise fall within the extended definition of ‘drug’ as well as
    the definition of ‘precursor’ are simply regarded as controlled precursors and are subject to the
    lower penalty regime applicable to those substances…"

    (point 43, page 9 of the Discussion Paper)

    The problem is that by broadening the definition of a precursor, many other species suddenly become potential targets simply because they share 'upstream' biosynthetic pathways. This presents the very real possibility that plants that are effectively irrelevant to criminal activity – or even to recreational drug use or to medicinal application – suddenly become potential targets for enthusiastic law enforcement or for lobbyist propaganda.

    5) The draft proposal lists, amongst many others, the offence "Possessing plant material, equipment or instructions for commercial cultivation of controlled plants" (p 23 of the Draft Proposal). Equipment can be interpreted as (amongst other things) soils, fertilisers, pesticide chemicals, and horticultural books and other information currently used for legitimate purposes. Entry to premises could be made, and charges could be laid, on "suspicion" only, even where charges are subsequently dismissed. A failure to successfully defend the charges leads to penalty of 7 years imprisonment.

    For instances where there IS possession of plant material, equipment or instructions suitable for commercial cultivation of controlled plants (whether or not such plants are discovered, or possibly, even if there is not actually a commercial quantity of plants discovered), there is no provision for the "defence of no commercial intent" – which is problematic for a defendant to prove even if the defence IS permitted. This would expose, for example, collectors of cacti of many genera (which contain traces of mescaline) to prosecution, with the onus on the collectors to demonstrate at their expense that they were partaking ONLY in "legitimate use", even though the draft proposal specified no ammenable model for defining and identifying "legitimate use".

    6) This ill-advised Proposal has done more to educate a public previously unaware of the psychotropic effects of many common and essentially non-problematic garden plants, than any other activity in Australia has to date. It is an own-goal: or alternatively it is perhaps a conscious attempt to manufacture a self-fulfilling prophesy of a problem where none existed before…

    Overall, that this Proposal has proceeded without careful and impartial analysis of the science underpinning the subject is a serious abrogation of due diligence of process..

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