Gardai seize 'truckloads' of legal highs in crackdown
THREE "large truckloads" of legal highs were seized by gardai in the wake of stringent new measures to criminalise their sale in head shops.
Justice Minister Dermot Ahern yesterday said the stockpile was unearthed when gardai visited 102 stores selling the controversial substances.
A total of 66 shops were closed down as a result of the raid, while 36 outlets remain open but are now trading without the illegal material.
The revelations come in the wake of new government measures to ban the sale of legal highs.
Health Minister Mary Harney brought an order to Cabinet to ban the substances following approval for the measure from the European Commission.
Under the new order, it is illegal to buy or sell mephedrone, spice products and substances which mimic cannabis, cocaine and ecstasy.
Such products contain chemicals including mephedrone, benzylpiperazine, methylone, methedrone, butylone, flephedrone and MDPV.
Possession and supply of those substances is now illegal and anyone convicted of unlawful possession can face up to seven years' imprisonment and a fine, while suppliers could be jailed for life.
Speaking in the Dail yesterday, Mr Ahern said the Government felt the need to take a "belt-and-braces" approach to head shops, which he described as a moving target.
"The gardai were working on a list of 102 head shops around the country, some more prominent than others, with some underground types," he said.
"A total of 66 have been closed and any banned substances have been handed over to the gardai. Thirty-six remain open but their business relates to non-banned substances.
"Three distribution centres visited handed over banned substances and claimed their business now solely relates to non-banned substances," he added. "The shops and distribution centres will remain closely monitored.
"Gardai don't yet have a figure for the weight of the substances handed over, but the estimate is that they would amount to three large truckloads."
The government move is to be accompanied by new legislation which will allow gardai to seek a court order to close head shops suspected of selling drug-like products, with the onus on the owners to prove they are not involved in such activities.
Mr Ahern also said he intended to have the new Criminal Law (Psychoactive Substances) Bill 2010 ready within the next week or so.
However, he said the Government was receiving advice from Attorney General Paul Gallagher as it didn't want to implement measures that would inadvertently ban medicines.
"I'm under no illusion that, while a lot of the head shops have closed, an effort will be made to bring in new products," he said. "But we have priority drafting for this bill and the Attorney General's office is aware this has to be passed before the summer recess."