TAX TIME: A regulated synthetic drugs industry would be safer and boost government coffers.THE Eros Association is Australia’s national adults-only association, representing traders in age-restricted products and services.
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Many of our members started selling synthetic cannabis and other psychoactive herbal smoking mixes a couple of years ago before some of them (not all) were made illegal.

We call these products, as a group, “social tonics”.

A social tonic is the industry’s description for a wide variety of mostly smokeable, herbal-mix products which, in scientific terms, may also contain “cannabinoid receptor agonists”. That is, they hit the two main cannabis receptors in the brain to make them work. They mostly have a mild psychoactive effect which is generally one where people do not lose control of their personality or their consciousness.

If anything, these aspects of a person’s being are heightened.

Sense perceptions are mostly more intense and emotional empathy may also be increased. The analgesic qualities of many of these substances also appear to be considerable.

According to the evidence that we have collected, we estimate that about 75 per cent of the social tonics that our members sell have a psychoactive effect that is no stronger or more intense than a couple of glasses of wine.

Possibly 15 per cent would be less than that and 10 per cent would be stronger.

As governments started banning more and more of these products, Eros decided to start surveying the retailers who sold them to try to get a handle on who is buying them, how widespread their use has become and how big the industry is.

We asked retailers to ask questions of their customers and record the answers. About 5000 people responded.

While it might not be the most scientific survey ever conducted, it is a starting point in a field which has been the subject of very little research to date.

The results contain more than a few surprises for legislators and the general public.

For example, we found that in 2012 there was a turnover in Australia of approximately $700 million in these products which raised $70 million in GST for state and federal governments.

This would be the first time ever in Australia that the sale of recreational drugs has contributed to the gross domestic product.

If these products were regulated and taxed (much like alcohol) the tax return would be closer to $200 million.

I am currently writing to government to ask them to use some of this revenue for education and rehabilitation of people who have problems with any recreational drugs but I’m sure it’s more likely to be spent on promoting prohibition and more police resources.

Another surprise was that the average age of people purchasing these social tonics was 33 years. This is older than almost any other recreational drug and dashes the myth that it is thrill seekers buying these products.

The fact that these products appeal to a more mature age demographic also aligns with our contention that, as a group, they are milder in effect than alcohol.

Middle-aged persons do not generally take drugs that make them want to leap off balconies.

The survey took in 146 retailers across Australia, roughly split 50/50 in metro and rural areas. Consumers most often purchased social tonics to relax and for socialising (44 per cent).

Nearly a third (29 per cent) said they used them as an alternative to alcohol or harder drugs. Almost another third of the survey (30 per cent) said they used them for pain or stress relief.

The biggest concerns that people had were the changing strength of the products and the lack of an ingredients label (37 per cent) while the changing legal status and the lack of government regulation caused concern for 36 per cent of those surveyed.

While 29 per cent said they took social tonics for a therapeutic effect, only six per cent had experienced negative side effects.

This figure is similar to the negative side effects of aspirin.

The most commonly reported negative side effect was an elevated heart rate (31.21 per cent) while 18.44 per cent cited ‘addiction’ as an unwanted side effect.

Only 2.84 per cent reported violent behaviour (way under the levels for alcohol) and 4.96 per cent said they had a trip to hospital as a result.

Alongside quite a few of these negative effects were admissions of poly drug use.

On the other side of the ledger, 90.78 per cent reported relaxation as a positive effect, while 80.14 per cent cited “pleasure”.

The main finding from this is that what we are being told about these products by some of our most trusted institutions – the Australian Medical Association, health ministers and medical journalists – does not align with the subjective reports of those who are supplying and consuming them. Does this mean we are being lied to about the potential for harm from social tonics and synthetic cannabinoids? Maybe.

One of Victoria’s most senior police officials has urged the government to treat drug abuse as a health issue rather than a law and order problem, saying he would rather see funding go to health and welfare services than to more police.

Assistant Commissioner Andrew Crisp, speaking at the Yarra Drug and Health Forum (Vic) last month said “we should tackle it as a health issue. Police are an agency of last resort; we’re left to pick up the pieces. At times there is too much emphasis on police. We’re one part of the solution. We don’t want to see another 1400 officers promised . . . there’s politics and then there’s public policy. We don’t like the bidding wars.”

There are signs that this wall of misinformation about these substances is starting to crumble.

Fiona Patten is president of the Australian Sex Party and chief executive of the Eros Foundation.

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IT’S meant to be the major gateway to Newcastle used by tens of thousands of visitors each day, not a defacto rubbish tip for those seeking to dodge tip fees.
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Mountains of rubbish, including soft drink bottles, clothes, mattresses and sofas, now clog both sides of Newcastle Link Road.

EDITORIAL: Do the right thing on gateway

‘‘It’s an absolute disgrace. What sort of message does this send to visitors who pass by here?,’’ Cameron Park businessman Phillip Graham said.

Newcastle and Lake Macquarie councils and the state government share responsibility for the 7 kilometre stretch of road, which ironically is only a kilometre–as the crow flies–from Summerhill Waste Management Centre.

A combination of laziness, increasing tip fees and a relatively small chance of getting caught are regarded as the main reasons the problem is proliferating.

‘‘The last time I went to Awaba tip it cost me $78 Mr Graham said.

‘‘I was recently up in MacKay, Queensland and it cost $12 for a trailer load.’’

Shortland-Wallsend Landcare group facilitator Jenny Castles said volunteers usually only collected rubbish from the stretch on Clean Up Australia Day.

‘‘I only went past it today and the person next to me said ‘why do people do this,’’ she said.

‘‘We were going to Gosford where the exit to from the freeway is tidy and planted out with native grasses.’’

Newcastle City Council compliance services manager Adam Gilligan said one option under consideration was using camouflaged cameras to catch dumpers.

‘‘It’s one of the tools that is in our kit. It’s been quite successful in other hot spot areas where dumping has been problem,’’ he said.

The minium tipping fee at Newcastle council’s Summerhill Waste Management Centre is $23 per vehicle, while at Lake Macquarie’s Awaba tip it is $15.

Included the fees is the state government waste levy, which is designed to encourage people to reduce, reuse and recycle waste materials.

‘‘Obviously tip fees still present a financial hurdle for some people, but it’s important to keep in mind that the fines for illegal rubbish dumping are $750 and it can be higher depending on the amount and type of material.’’ Mr Gilligan said.

A Lake Macquarie City Council spokeswoman said council rangers investigated cases of illegal dumping and prosecute those responsible, wherever possible.

‘‘Illegal dumping remains a priority for council and our local community,’’ she said.

‘‘Council has an illegal dumping program with four focus areas including compliance, deterrence, education and monitoring, which has been in place since 2010.’’

She said the council had an Illegal Dumping Program with four focus areas including compliance, deterrence, education and monitoring, which has been in place since 2010.

Mr Graham said council’s needed to take greater responsibility for collecting rubbish from households at an affordable price.

‘‘Fining people does not work. They need to rethink the strategy,’’ he said.

‘‘I think there should be a federally funding program where two people drive around in a truck and collect rubbish for a small fee.’’

Garbage illegally dumped on the side of the Newcastle Link Road. Picture Ryan Osland

Garbage illegally dumped on the side of the Newcastle Link Road. Picture Ryan Osland

Garbage illegally dumped on the side of the Newcastle Link Road. Picture Ryan Osland

Garbage illegally dumped on the side of the Newcastle Link Road. Picture Ryan Osland

Garbage illegally dumped on the side of the Newcastle Link Road. Picture Ryan Osland

Garbage illegally dumped on the side of the Newcastle Link Road. Picture Ryan Osland

Garbage illegally dumped on the side of the Newcastle Link Road. Picture Ryan Osland

Phillip Graham with garbage illegally dumped on the side of the Newcastle Link Road. Picture Ryan Osland

Phillip Graham with garbage illegally dumped on the side of the Newcastle Link Road. Picture Ryan Osland

Phillip Graham with garbage illegally dumped on the side of the Newcastle Link Road. Picture Ryan Osland

Phillip Graham with garbage illegally dumped on the side of the Newcastle Link Road. Picture Ryan Osland

Phillip Graham with garbage illegally dumped on the side of the Newcastle Link Road. Picture Ryan Osland

Garbage illegally dumped on the side of the Newcastle Link Road. Picture Ryan Osland

Garbage illegally dumped on the side of the Newcastle Link Road. Picture Ryan Osland

‘‘The other option could be to put a big concrete bunker on the edge of town where people can take their rubbish for free rather than dumping it in the bush.’’

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THE first Australian gay couple to be married in New Zealand have welcomed Kevin Rudd’s pledge, if elected, to hold a vote on marriage equality within his first 100 days in office.

Speers Point pair Paul McCarthy and Trent Kandler will be married in Wellington on August 19 after winning a New Zealand Tourism competition to be the first married under the country’s Marriage Amendment Act.

Mr McCarthy, a vet, said the couple were watching Sunday night’s debate and were surprised by Mr Rudd’s announcement.

‘‘Certainly it’s the closest we’ve gotten to equality in our history, we’re excited,’’ Mr McCarthy said.

‘‘It would be great if they all would also allow a conscience vote.’’

Mr Rudd, who only reversed his opposition to gay marriage in May, says he’ll allow Labor MPs a conscience vote on the fast-tracked legislation.

However Tony Abbott remains firmly opposed to the issue.

Regardless, Mr McCarthy and Mr Kandler are pushing ahead with their New Zealand option.

The pair have chosen a Lego motif for the Kiwi nuptials and will say ‘I do’ while wearing pale pink waist coats and black suits.

Former Wellington Mayor Kerry Prendergast will officiate over the ceremony at the Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa, which will also include poems from the duo’s sisters.

As part of their prize the couple have a reception at the museum and later the polo club for 20 of their nearest and dearest as well as visits to tourist attractions.

The couple plan to write their own vows and Mr McCarthy said he was busy rehearsing them.

Trent Kandler and Paul McCarthy, who will be married in New Zealand this weekend, have welcomed Kevin Rudd’s pledge to to hold a vote on marriage equality within his first 100 days in office. Picture Peter Stoop

‘‘It’s been a bit of a whirlwind,’’ he said.

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NEWCASTLE Major League heavyweights Toronto and Belmont warmed up for the upcoming finals series with comfortable wins on Sunday.
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Belmont belted Boomerangs 14-2 at Stevenson Park and the Tigers enjoyed a 9-3 win over White Sox at Waterboard Oval.

The two rivals are guaranteed to finish in the top two but the order will be determined in the last two rounds.

All teams were missing key personnel at the weekend because of the NSW Country Junior Championships in Wollongong.

But the absence of the young guns let others step up, such as Belmont second-grade pitcher Matt Ireland.

Ireland held Boomerangs to just two runs off two hits in five innings pitched. He also contributed two hits, including a double, with the bat.

Boomerangs’ runs came in the bottom of the first after a Blessing Matore double.

Belmont opened their account in the fourth when Chad Lewis, Ireland and Adam Herrara drove in four runs after James Eade led off the innings with a triple.

Eade was excellent at third base, hitting a single and a double to go with his triple.

Kyle Fogarty made his first-grade debut for Boomerangs on Sunday and had a hit in his first at bat. Fogarty continues a strong family tradition at the club – his father and grandfather both played first grade.

At Toronto, a weakened White Sox were no match for the hosts’ quality pitching.

Kurt Eden started and allowed only three hits and a run in his five innings.

Michael Campbell closed out the game, giving up two runs off three hits while striking out eight. It capped off a great game for Campbell who collected four hits.

Toronto return to Waterboard Oval on Sunday to take on Boomerangs, while Belmont host Phoenix Charlestown at Miller Field.

■ The Newcastle Major League grand finals will be played at Windsor Park for the first time next month.

The venue for the deciders in the top three grades has traditionally alternated between Miller Field and Stevenson Park, which are considered the best ballparks in the region.

But in recognition of the work done on the ground since Phoenix Charlestown took up residency, the Gateshead venue will host the season finale on Saturday, September 14.

The minor league deciders will be played the previous Saturday at the Maitland Mavericks’ home ground at Gillieston Heights.

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Inside DJs, Dick Smith will reach a new demographic. Photo: Dallas KilponenFashion-savvy department store David Jones has inked a deal with Dick Smith to all but sever its exposure to the electronics category in a novel deal that has united the top end of town with a business that makes its money selling DVDs, computer games and gadgets.
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In a strategic partnership that may be the first of many for department stores, David Jones on Monday revealed it would hand over day-to-day running of its loss-making electrical floor space to the private equity owners of Dick Smith.

The new retail banner, to be called David Jones Electronics Powered by Dick Smith, will be established at 29 David Jones stores. Dick Smith will also be responsible for the department store’s electricals website offer.

DJs’ exit from electrical ends a horror run for the business. The consumer electronics operations, covering categories such as televisions, computers, tablets, home office and audiovisual products, is responsible for more than half the group’s sales declines in 2012-13.

It is a huge coup for Dick Smith, which was offloaded by Woolworths last year to private equity group Anchorage Capital Partners in a $20 million fire sale, and is one of the deals aimed at giving Dick Smith the revenue base and economies of scale it needs to be flipped into an initial public offering as early as 2014.

DJs is, however, keen to protect its image as Australia’s most exclusive department store. DJs boss Paul Zahra argued it had the whip hand in the new relationship and would govern the way Dick Smith was advertised and marketed across its stores.

”We have a strict agreement with Dick Smith, where they will be operating under our brand principles, which includes the staffing and the look and feel of the marketing and visual merchandising in store,” he said.

Mr Zahra said David Jones was especially fortunate that the boss of Dick Smith, Myer veteran and one-time executive general manager Nick Abboud, had an understanding of how department stores operated.

”Equally we have clauses in our contract that if we weren’t to get to a resolution on any issue we could terminate [the deal]. But I don’t think we will ever get to that.”

Dick Smith would also not be allowed to creep into other category offerings from within its David Jones enclosure, such as whitegoods and small appliances.

Under the three-year deal, which will kick off on October 1, Dick Smith will acquire DJs’ electronics inventory, fixtures and fittings, and front-line David Jones staff will also go across.

David Jones will book a one-off charge of $5 million to $10 million as it writes down the value of stock and pays for some redundancies to back-office staff.

”We think this is a super deal for all involved,” Mr Zahra said. ”It has transformed what was an underperforming category into a profit contributor.”

The concept of a store-within-a-store should generate positive returns for David Jones within 12 months.

Mr Abboud said the relationship would put his retail brand in front of a demographic that previously it was unable to reach. ”David Jones plays in the ‘A’ demographic and the ‘American Express’ customer; it’s a great opportunity. We don’t have that customer, so it’s sort of all new business for us,” he said.

David Jones shares rose 13¢ to $2.74 on Monday.

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