Legislation anticipates emerging drug threat

NEW drugs will be made illegal more quickly under a law which makes it easier for the government to expand the list of substances it regulates.

The Age understands that some of the first drugs to be criminalised could include synthetic cannabis and bath salts, both of which have come under public scrutiny in the last year.

A US man, Rudy Eugene, who was shot and killed by US police while chewing another man's face was in June thought to be under the influence of bath salts, a claim later dismissed in court.

The law, which was passed on Wednesday, allows the government to update the list of substances its drug laws apply to by way of regulation, rather than changing the Commonwealth Criminal Code, which would require approval from both houses of Parliament. A spokesman for Commonwealth Attorney-General Nicola Roxon said this was a direct response to drug manufacturers' practice of tweaking the ingredients used in drug compounds to avoid criminal liability.

''Illicit drugs have a terrible impact on the Australian community and the government is dedicated to ensuring that our laws are responsive to new drug threats,'' Attorney-General Roxon said. ''We must target new and emerging drugs which organised criminals are importing and trafficking.''

Geoff Munro, head of policy at the Australian Drug Foundation said this was a futile reform, with black market chemists able alter the drugs they produced faster than the government could ever criminalise them.

''There's an infinite variety of substances that can be marketed illegally so the cycle will continue no matter how quickly they add new substances on [to its laws],'' Mr Munro said. ''Governments are better placed cutting off supply by tapping criminal gangs who are importing and supplying [drugs].''

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