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There are drugs at the bottom of your garden

By David Leyonhjelm and Roy Ellery - posted Thursday, 10 March 2011

Innocent gardeners could find themselves charged under federal drug laws if a proposal to add hundreds of plants to the same prohibited list as cannabis is implemented. The plants contain minute amounts of illegal drugs.

Those caught by the proposal include many common cacti, Australian native wattles, many common lawn and pasture grasses and the highly admired ornamentals Angels Trumpets (Brugmansia and Datura).

The Commonwealth Attorney-General's Department is promoting the proposal apparently with the intention of targeting the illicit drug trade. The problem is, it will do little to control criminal activity but will make criminals of a lot of innocent people.


Rather than list the full botanical names of the plants which it would like to see banned, the proposal seeks to ban all plants containing specific chemicals, namely DMT and mescaline, which are illegal hallucinogenic substances.

Those responsible appear to have undertaken no research to discover how prevalent these chemicals are in nature and whether enforcement of such a blanket ban is feasible. If they had done, they would have found that it affects thousands of very important and highly collectable plants.

Up to 10% of the entire cactus family contains mescaline in trace amounts, including common varieties sold in Kmart and Bunnings. However, the amount of mescaline is so minute it would take over a tonne of plant material to extract a single dose for intoxication.

The proposal also nominates all plants of the genus Lophophora (or peyote cactus), even though only some of these actually contain mescaline.

The effect of the prohibition would be to make it illegal for nurseries and propagators to sell many common cactus species, with the sale of a single plant that contained mescaline attracting penalties comparable to those involved in supplying cannabis.

In practical terms these businesses would probably be unable to sell any species of cactus at all, due to the risk that they might contain mescaline. There are simply too many species and varieties in existence for each to be individually analysed in a laboratory.


The story is similar for plants containing DMT, which is extremely prevalent in nature and likely to be present in thousands of species. There are certainly thousands worldwide known to contain DMT, including some native to Australia. Among them are various native wattle varieties, icons among Australian flora and widely grown as ornamentals, including some listed as endangered and others used as essential tools for native re-vegetation and sand dune stabilisation.

Among other native DMT carriers are Common Reed, the main grass used to control erosion, Evodia species, required for rainforest regeneration, and Phalaris, a major pasture grass in Victoria and southern NSW. The iconic Sturts Desert Pea (the state flower of South Australia) would also be banned under these proposals.

The chemical DMT is already illegal under all state and federal drug schedules. Law enforcement has many options to prevent DMT production from plants, including the ability to prosecute those who grow plants with the intent to manufacture DMT. It is baffling why the Department believes it requires or would gain any further benefit from placing a ban on the plants themselves.

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About the Authors

David Leyonhjelm is a former Senator for the Liberal Democrats.

Roy Ellery is a plant collector.

Other articles by these Authors

All articles by David Leyonhjelm
All articles by Roy Ellery

Creative Commons LicenseThis work is licensed under a Creative Commons License.

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