Head shops face threat of lawsuits but won't be closed
HEAD SHOPS face the prospect of being sued if people suffer adverse effects after using substances bought there -- but they will not be shut down.
And planning laws may be tightened up to give county councils more of a say in whether the controversial shops can open.
Drugs Minister John Curran told the Irish Independent he hoped new laws would enable head shops to be sued for selling goods advertised as items such as bath salts that are dangerous when used as a drug.
If someone's health is affected by using a falsely advertised product, they will be able to claim damages.
Mr Curran said closing head shops was not the answer and banning substances, as would be done in the coming weeks, would not solve all the problems -- because more legal substances would crop up.
Plans for banning substances such as mephedrone, synthetic cannabinoids, which are sold as 'Spice', and BZPs are expected to be approved by Cabinet next week. But the ban will not come in for another three months, pending EU approval.
Earlier this week, Garda Commissioner Fachtna Murphy said the force and politicians had to get a grip on the spread of head shops across the country.
Mr Murphy described the shops -- which sell so-called legal highs -- as a threat and he said their popularity was due to the decreasing amount of hard drugs on the streets.
Fine Gael yesterday said the delay in regulating head shops was allowing more people to experiment with the dangerous substances.
"This is much like the two-year delay in outlawing the use of magic mushrooms, which allowed an extremely dangerous substance to be used by a further 180,000 Irish people," Fine Gael MEP Jim Higgins said.
"There is a real lack of awareness of just how unregulated and dangerous these readily available substances are."
But Mr Curran said he was planning legislation and wanted the Government to be one step ahead of other countries to prevent Ireland becoming a dumping ground for the drugs.
"In the Isle of Man, they have no head shops but they still have these psychoactive substances available and they are purchased through internet sales," he said.
"While I can't technically ban head shops, there are other things we're looking at doing.
"With respect of (the Department of) Enterprise, Trade and Employment, I specifically asked them to have a look at our consumer protection legislation. People are going into shops and buying bath salts and plant foods and everybody knows that's not what they are at all.
"If someone could have adverse effects; they could sue the shop," he added.
"I've asked the Department of Environment to have a look at our planning legislation. At the moment, a head shop can open in any retail premises," he said.
"Under planning law there is no difference between a newsagents and a shop selling psychoactive substances or legal highs."
A requirement for specific permission, as is the case with off-licences, would give local authorities a say in the opening of head shops.
It would also allow them to impose opening-hour restrictions on head shops.