Southern Cross University research associate Peter Mouatt is looking into the more sinister side of Australia’s floral emblem, the wattle.
Southern Cross University research associate Peter Mouatt is looking into the more sinister side of Australia’s floral emblem, the wattle. Jay Cronan

Outcry over ban talk

AUSTRALIA’S national floral emblem, the iconic wattle, could be banned for its hallucinogenic properties if a proposed schedule of controlled plants currently before the Attorney-General is approved.

The discussion paper, which also targets common ornamental garden plants like datura (angel’s trumpet), various succulents and other plants like Diviners Sage, Kratom and Khat, has ecologists and plant enthusiasts up in arms.

What began as a legitimate attempt to shut down the drug trade’s access to illicit drug precursors in 2008 by then Prime Minister Kevin Rudd, has been extended to more obscure drugs like DMT and mescaline – hallucinogens which hold little prominence in the drug trade and are predominantly extracted from wattle bark and cacti, respectively.

Responding to questions from The Northern Star yesterday, the Acting Minister for Home Affairs and Justice, Robert McClelland, moved to quell fears of a ban.

A spokeswoman for the Minister said claims that backyard plants would be banned or their growers prosecuted were ‘ridiculous’.

Regardless, the proposed schedule lists these plants in the same category as cannabis and coca, at the very least leaving them in a legal limbo should the schedule be adopted.

The spokeswoman did not respond to questions regarding the health and crime impacts of DMT and mescaline, and their relative social costs compared with tobacco and alcohol.

Prominent permaculturist and biodiversity advocate, Robyn Francis, was aghast at the proposal.

“It’s just crazy. One of the species on the list is a common agricultural weed – is every farmer who has that growing on their land liable to be imprisoned because they’re growing ‘commercial quantities’?

“And what about all our local wattles, which just grow up by themselves as pioneer species – it means ecology suicide to enforce things like this and it’s unrealistic.

“Alcohol and tobacco costs us a lot more every year in terms of medical and social costs, and if we’re really concerned about the health and well-being of the nation we should ban those before we go down this track.”

Renowned bush food pioneer Peter Hardwick agreed, saying acacias (the plant family wattles belong to) were absolutely critical to Australia’s ecology.

He also questioned the effect any ban might have on the production of wattle seed – a bush food staple revered in restaurants around the world.

Southern Cross University herbal medicine analyst Peter Mouatt is concerned such a restriction on acacias might shut down research opportunities.

“We know a bit about acacias, but only three or four native species out of more than a thousand have a detailed published analysis,” he said. “I would be very concerned about any broad policy decisions on plants we actually know so little about. We’ve seen it in the past where (legal and political) concerns have been raised which have closed down research opportunities.”

DMT (Dimethyltryptamine): is a naturally-occurring hallucinogen traditionally consumed orally for healing, ceremonial or religious uses. In Australia it is found in acacias and generally extracted from wattle bark.

Mescaline: is a similar compound found in various cacti.



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