Long legal fight looms in bid to shut down head shops
THE Government is anticipating a lengthy and expensive legal battle with wealthy head shop owners as it attempts to ban the stores.
Community, Equality and Gaeltacht Affairs Minister Pat Carey also admitted yesterday it may be impossible to ban the sale of certain products because manufacturers can simply alter the products' components to get around a ban.
"It is entirely possible that the industry is capable of staying [one step] ahead," Mr Carey said.
The minister was speaking as Garda Commissioner Fachtna Murphy set up a nationwide investigation into the activities of head shops and the numerous attacks on them.
A number of head shop owners have already been arrested and questioned and files have been sent to the DPP in relation to approximately five stores in four counties.
Gardai say they are suspected of having sold illegal drugs and products.
It is understood the illegal drug sold in each case was mescaline, which is among the ingredients in 'San Pedro' or 'Peyote'.
San Pedro and Peyote are sold as dried leaves in head shops and eaten by consumers.
It is understood the files sent to the DPP relate to the alleged sale of these substances from head shops within the last two years.
However, garda sources have indicated both covert and overt monitoring operations on an estimated 70 head shops nationwide in recent months have not thrown up sales of anything illegal.
It is understood 20 of the shops have been searched in recent months,
A number of substances -- including mephedrone -- continue to be legally sold, but will be banned from mid-July under new legislation currently the subject of a three-month EU notification period.
The UK government moved swiftly to ban mephedrone this month amid various claims and counter-claims about possible adverse health effects.
However, Mr Carey told an Oireachtas committee on community affairs that such a move was not a viable option in this country.
"We had strong legal advice that if the (notification period) was not followed it would strongly jeopardise any subsequent prosecutions," he said, adding he thought the UK ban would prove "problematic".
Mr Carey said that he understood the criticism he was getting from some quarters for a perceived slow pace, but said he was determined to get it right.
Mr Carey confirmed there was no ban on under-18s buying substances in the shop.
He said he hopes a HSE health campaign with an emphasis on 'legal highs' would be rolled out to schools before the end of the current term.