Undercover gardai to weed out illicit highs
UNDERCOVER gardai are being sent into head shops around the country to determine if they are selling illegal 'highs'.
The move has been ordered by garda management after the introduction of new legislation cracking down on the sale of psychoactive substances in the shops.
The nationwide operation is being spearheaded by officers from the force's national drugs unit as gardai implement their new powers under the law, which has been in force since Monday morning.
The gardai will make random purchases of products on sale in the head shops and the substances will then be tested forensically to establish if they are psychoactive.
Undercover gardai are also being deployed on the streets to counteract attempts to sell the substances outside the shops.
A senior garda officer said last night: "These covert operations are a follow-up to warnings by gardai last week to the owners of head shops about the imminent enactment of the new legislation."
Shortly before the law came into force, gardai called to the shops and advised the owners that they would be committing a criminal offence if they were found to be selling the substances from Monday.
Up to a third of the shops that had been trading openly a month ago have since shut down in anticipation of the crackdown.
The 'catch-all' law is intended to eliminate the difficulties previously created by the withdrawal of products placed on a banned list and their replacement with rebranded substances.
Gardai now have the power to serve a prohibition notice on a person believed to be selling, importing or exporting psychoactive substances for human consumption.
If the notice is ignored, the garda officer can then apply to the District Court to shut down the head shop and the owner can be charged with a criminal offence, carrying a maximum penalty on conviction of five years' imprisonment.
The number of head shops around the country reached 102 earlier this year but fell to 32 when the list of banned substances was published.
But the number grew again to 48 after it was realised that substances not officially named in the list could be sold legally.
However, nine of the shops closed again by the middle of last week and more owners had shut their premises by the weekend after they were warned by gardai of the consequences of breaching the legislation.
Gardai said last night that they intended to step up the pressure on those responsible for selling what they described as potentially lethal products to young people until the trade had been totally disrupted.