New laws force more head shops to close
A NUMBER of head shops around the country shut down yesterday as tough new government legislation came into effect.
Gardai plan to use the groundbreaking legislation to target shops selling what are believed to be psychoactive substances.
But several shop owners decided to close their premises yesterday in advance of the new act becoming law from midnight last night.
Ireland is the first country in Europe to bring in a "catch-all" law rather than focusing solely on banning specific products.
Justice Minister Dermot Ahern last night said the focus of the legislation was on ensuring that the sale or supply of substances, which might not be specifically controlled under the Misuse of Drugs Act but which had psychoactive effects, would become a criminal offence.
Gardai have been given 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, a garda 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 could result in a maximum penalty of five years' imprisonment.
The legislation also contains widespread search and seizure powers for the gardai and the Customs Service and creates a new offence dealing with cannabis cultivation indoors.
Earlier this year, the number of shops selling legal "highs" had risen to 102 around the country.
But after Health Minister Mary Harney published a list of 200 banned psychoactive substances in May the majority of the shops shut and only 36 premises remained open for business.
The number grew again to 48 after new substances not included in the list emerged on the shelves. But before the legislation came into effect at midnight last night a large group of those owners decided to close their premises, at least temporarily.
Ten of the 48 shops had been operating in the centre of Dublin, while others were located in Malahide, Dun Laoghaire and Finglas, and outside the capital there were shops in Cork city, Bandon, Bantry, Kinsale, Killarney, Limerick, Drogheda, Naas, Athy, Portlaoise, Tullamore, Mullingar, Bray, Galway, Castlebar, Ballina, Longford, Clonmel, Waterford, Wexford and New Ross.