New psychoactive substances and substances represented to be serious drug alternatives

New psychoactive substances and substances represented to be serious drug alternatives

Offences have been introduced to ban the importation of synthetic drugs as well as substances marketed as alternatives to illicit drugs. Psychoactive substances with no legitimate use or substances marketed as having substantially similar effects to illicit drugs (such as cannabis, cocaine or ecstasy) cannot be imported into Australia.

Substances listed as border controlled drugs or prohibited imports will continue to be dealt with under existing controls.

From 5 September 2015, it is an offence under the Criminal Code Act 1995 to import:

  • any (non-exempt) psychoactive substance.
    Maximum penalty: Imprisonment for 5 years or 300 penalty units, or both.
  • any (non-exempt) substance where, at the time of importation, the presentation of the substance includes an express or implied representation that the substance is a serious drug alternative.
    Maximum penalty: Imprisonment for 2 years or 120 penalty units, or both.

A psychoactive substance means any substance that, when a person consumes it, has the capacity to induce a psychoactive effect.

A psychoactive effect, in relation to a person, means:

  • stimulation or depression of the person’s central nervous system, resulting in hallucinations or in a significant disturbance in, or significant change to, motor function, thinking, behaviour, perception, awareness or mood; or
  • causing a state of dependence, including physical or psychological addiction.

A serious drug alternative is a substance that:

  • has a psychoactive effect that is the same as, or is substantially similar to, the psychoactive effect of a serious drug; or
  • is a lawful alternative to a serious drug. 

Exemptions

The legislation includes a number of exemptions for substances that have a legitimate use or that are already controlled by other laws.

The categories of substances exempt from the offence of importing a psychoactive substance are:

  • food
  • tobacco products
  • therapeutic goods
  • agricultural chemicals
  • veterinary chemical products
  • industrial chemical
  • a plant or fungus (or extract thereof)
  • a controlled or border controlled drug, plant or precursor
  • a prohibited import under the Customs Act 1901
  • substances imported by or on behalf of law enforcement agencies, forensic laboratories or medical and scientific research facilities.

The categories of substances exempt from the offence of importing a substance represented to be a serious drug alternative are:

  • food
  • therapeutic goods
  • agricultural chemicals
  • veterinary chemicals.

Please see Crimes Legislation Amendment (Psychoactive Substances and Other Measures) Act for more details on the exempt substances.

Seizure

If your substance is seized because it is suspected of being a prohibited psychoactive substance, you will need to prove in court that the substance is not psychoactive or that it is an exempt substance before it will be returned to you.