'Head shop' owners risk jail
Owners and staff in so-called head shops were warned today they face up to five years in jail for selling psychoactive substances.
Justice Minister Dermot Ahern said he hoped the tough penalties will effectively put the high street dealers out of business.
Hard-line laws could be enforced within three weeks giving gardai and customs officers greater powers to combat the sale, internet sale, home delivery, distribution, advertising, import and export of any non-medicinal and unregulated substance with psychoactive effects.
Mr Ahern revealed stores all over the country will be hit with closure orders if they break the legislation.
"I'm personally aware of a number of fairly serious cases that have happened in relation to particularly young people going into these head shops," he said.
"I think they've no option but to close."
Gardai will be able to search shops without warrant - similar to the powers given to environmental health officers - with senior officers issuing prohibition orders to ban the sale of an unregulated psychoactive product.
Mr Ahern said the new Criminal Justice (Psychoactive Substances) Bill 2010 was "a catch-all approach" and was the first time a law of this kind has been brought forward in Europe.
"It will be a much more effective tool for the gardai, particularly to close down these premises and stop these activities occurring in other premises," he added.
The minister said he does not expect legal challenges to the legislation as the use of prohibition and closures are already in force in Irish law.
"I'm happy enough that this is particularly complex from a legal point of view and there is a precedence," he added.
If prohibition orders are breached, officers will take action against the shop owner and get a closure order from a district court judge.
The minister warned if civil proceedings are ignored, criminal proceedings will start - with gardai having to produce expert evidence in court that a substance has psychoactive effects.
Last month Health Minister Mary Harney banned the sale of several legal highs, which include cocaine, cannabis and Ecstasy substitutes - under the Misuse of Drugs Act.