Laws which make distributing or advertising new psychoactive substances a criminal offence have been passed in a number of European countries in recent years (e.g. Ireland and Poland in 2010). Meanwhile, other Member States (e.g. Italy, Finland) have used existing consumer safety or medicines legislation to prevent their open sale.
In February 2011, as a rapid response, a Romanian government order set up multidisciplinary teams to target environments where ‘harmful unregulated psychoactive substances’ were being distributed or consumed. Bringing together representatives from ministries (e.g. health, interior, agriculture) and health and consumer protection agencies, the group was tasked to enforce all existing laws in their respective fields to stem the distribution of these substances.
These included health laws banning smoking in public places and consumer safety laws prohibiting the inaccurate labelling of products. The government order also foresaw a law that would better define the substances detected and grant the authorities more legislative power to control them.
Responding to the continued rise in the consumption of new psychoactive substances, Romania passed this expected law at the end of 2011. Under this law, a specific permit is required to sell any product likely to provoke psychoactive effects similar to those caused by substances controlled under drug laws. These effects are defined as those provoking ‘changes in functions and mental processes and behaviour’, or ‘causing dependency’. Unlike the earlier government order, the new law makes no specific reference to ‘harmful’ substances.
Under the new legislation, the distribution of an unregulated psychoactive substance without a permit (particularly if consumption was likely), could result in 1–3 years in prison when the psychoactive effects are unknown but likely. The sentence increases to 2–8 years when the psychoactive effects are known. Advertising the psychoactive effects of the substance is punishable by 1–3 years in prison. Claiming that the products are lawful is punishable by 3–10 years, perhaps in response to the popular misnomer ‘legal highs’. There is no penalty for the possession of these substances for the purpose of use.
Brendan Hughes and Bogdan Iasnic
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