Saturday 18 January 2020

Head shop clampdown is flawed, claims FG

Fiach Kelly Political Correspondent

NEW powers to stop head shops selling psychoactive drugs have been described as flawed because they will not immediately close the controversial outlets.

A garda superintendent will be able to slap a prohibition order on shops he or she suspects of selling so-called 'legal highs' -- but the order will only apply to the substance itself and will not shut an entire head shop down.

The measures are contained in a new bill introduced by Justice Minister Dermot Ahern. They will come into effect after the summer and are designed to counter the sale of new substances which are developed once other drugs are banned.

Mr Ahern also revealed the number of head shops had more than halved since the Government's clampdown on legal highs. There were 102 shops open and many closed after the clampdown in May, when some drugs were banned. But since then, at least 44 have reopened and are selling different substances.

The legislation is similar to controls used in food safety regulations.

Gardai and the courts will have the power to issue prohibition and eventually closure orders on a shop owner or premises where psychoactive substances are being sold. But a court can only apply a closure order if a prohibition order is not complied with.

Anyone convicted of selling psychoactive drugs could face up to five years in prison.

While all parties in the Dail support the bill, Fine Gael criticised it as flawed and said large loopholes meant head shops would not be closed any time soon.

Justice spokesman Alan Shatter said closure orders should be introduced immediately and said Mr Ahern's proposals meant that closure would only happen if someone refused to comply with the gardai and after a lengthy legal process.

A spokesman for Mr Ahern last night said the minister had been given "strong" legal advice that head shops had to be given the chance to comply with prohibition orders first and could not be shut down straight away.

Meanwhile, the National Poisons Information Centre, based in Beaumont Hospital in Dublin, said it received 85 calls about head-shop products in the 11 months to April this year.

It also said staff took calls from about 49 patients who had taken a product called 'Whack' and 28 calls about a variety of other head shop products in May and June this year, after the government clampdown.

The centre said most calls were from young men with increased heart and breathing rates and raised blood pressure.

Irish Independent

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