Germany's lower house has passed legislation to classify and ban whole groups of designer drugs. In 2015, dozens of people died from the chemical variants, which mimic the effects of illegal narcotics.
The Bundestag, Germany's lower house of parliament, on Friday voted in favor of a new bill put forth by the government to curb the trade, import, distribution and production of designer drugs, also known as "legal highs," which imitate the psychoactive effects of illegal narcotics.
Christian Democrat Maria Michalk, health policy spokesperson for the ruling coalition parliamentary group, described legal highs as an "enormous threat to public health." In 2015, deaths caused by designer drugs rose to 39 in Germany, up from 25 the previous year.
Under the new legislation, people found guilty of possession can be sentenced to a maximum of three years in prison and fined. Higher penalties, including a 10-year prison sentence, are reserved for those distributing and producing at a professional level, including criminal networks.
The legal measure aims to close a "regulatory and criminal liability gap" posed by the difficulties of banning individual substances, only for slightly-modified variants to emerge and replace those previously outlawed by authorities.
By banning whole groups of substances, German authorities hope to break this cycle of replacement.
Many of the legal highs originate in Asia, and are sold in Europe as herbs, bath salts, air fresheners, incense and fertilizers. The side effects range from nausea and heart palpitations to circulatory failure and death.
Earlier this year, the EU's drug monitoring chief Alexis Goosdeel said the market for designer drugs was remarkably "resilient."
"It is important to adapt our response in Europe to these drugs. New legislative proposals will help us deal with the substances in a more efficient way," Goosdeel said.
In the EU, there are some 450 designer drugs sold in over 650 online marketplaces.
ls/msh (dpa, AFP)