Minister vows 'catch-all' bill will force head shops to close
Focus no longer on named substances
JUSTICE Minister Dermot Ahern delivered a blunt message to head-shop owners yesterday -- telling them their days were numbered.
He predicted that new legislation, which he published yesterday, would result in the closure of the shops.
He described the Criminal Justice (Psychoactive Substances) Bill as a ground-breaking piece of legislation and said Ireland was the first country in Europe to bring in a "catch-all" law, rather than focusing on banning specific products. It is understood the European Commission has granted an application by the Government to fast-track the legislation.
Earlier, there had been fears among ministers that measures to tackle head shops could be held up until agreement had been reached in the EU.
The bill will be debated in the Seanad next week and then placed before the Dail. Mr Ahern said he was confident that the opposition would co-operate in ensuring that the bill could be enacted before the summer recess.
The initial action of Health Minister Mary Harney in producing a banned list of 200 named substances was a first step, and the Government was aware that attempts would be made to circumvent that measure by putting fresh products on the shelves.
The focus of the bill will be on ensuring the sale or supply of substances, which may not be specifically controlled under the Misuse of Drugs Acts but have psychoactive effects, will be a criminal offence. It will also give gardai and the courts powers to act quickly through prohibition and closure orders.
The definition of selling substances is broad and will include supplying, distribution, offering, or being in possession for sale, and includes sales over the internet, or through home-delivery services.
A garda superintendent will have the power to slap a prohibition notice on a person, believed to be selling, importing or exporting psychoactive substances for human consumption. If the person does not comply with the notice, the garda officer can then apply to the district court to shut down the head shop.
A prosecution will be treated as a civil, rather than criminal, issue -- which means that the burden of proof will be on the balance of probabilities rather than beyond reasonable doubt.
Failure to comply with a prohibition order will be a criminal offence, and conviction on indictment in the Circuit Court will result in a maximum penalty of five years imprisonment and a fine, while a summary conviction in the District Court could lead to a year in jail and a €5,000 fine.