After reading “Dangerous Bangkok Betty is Back” (13/02/15), I am left wondering when this chemical arms race will end.

The story picks up with the tale of a man who became “cognitively impaired” after what was reported as a “bender on synthetic cannabis”.

A product was named by the man’s mother and the story goes on the allege that the man’s life and health has been directly destroyed by an addiction to this product.

In 2012, a research paper on “synthetic cannabis” trends was published in the International Journal of Drug Policy which investigated the links between reporting and policy. Although journalists may be reporting with the best intentions in mind, “They might not be completely accurate given an absence of toxicological data and do not appear to be a deterrent.”

The research paper demonstrated that there is a link between reactive policies and increases in drug-related harm through, “Further awareness is created which could increase harm as more individuals try synthetic cannabis, and once banned, newer, less-understood psychoactive products enter the market to replace the banned drug.”

The product may or may not have played a part in the reported man’s “cognitive impairment.” It can’t even be said with assurance that the product is a “synthetic cannabis” product or a “psychoactive substance,” yet it can almost be guaranteed that, even though the tone of the article is negative, more people will now seek out this product.

Whatever the results of testing by the police, it can also be pretty much guaranteed that any court case will likely be long and expensive. The state’s apparently “ground breaking” laws are based on laws introduced into Ireland in 2011, which were intended to reduce the harms caused by “psychoactive substances.” The most recent data on drug-related health issues in Ireland shows that young people in Ireland are some of the highest users of these sorts of substances in Europe, because these are now widely available on the illicit black market.

Not only are these laws ineffective at reducing harms, but they look to be relatively unworkable due to their broad nature. During an inquiry into similar legislation banning imports of “psychoactive substances,” Senator Richard Di Natale questioned how the broad definition would be used at an enforcement level. The Deputy Chief Executive Officer, Border Enforcement, Australian Customs and Border Protection Service, Mr Roman Quaedvlieg said, “We would then have to go through a process of seeking guidance and advice from the Commonwealth Medical Officer, health officials, the TGA and various clinical evidence and we would have to determine all that,” to which Di Natale replied, “It just raises alarm bells for me that we are going down a path and we have no way of resolving the answer as to whether something is psychoactive or not, and that is the substance of the legislation.”

The chemical arms race is fueled by bad laws and emotionally charged stories. Rather than reducing the potential for harm, these stories seem to fuel the demand for these products. Rather than protecting the community, enforcement of these laws seems to be an expensive, unworkable shamozzle that creates a criminal black market.

There are other options to end this race. Rather than the continual pursuit of prohibition which is ineffective at its goal of reducing harms in the community, we could regulate such products, test them for risks, tax them, fund health and education initiatives and truly reduce harms. Or just legalise cannabis.