Head shops re-open to sell new 'highs'
MORE head shops have re-opened since a series of garda swoops following publication of a list of banned substances.
The action came after the number of shops selling legal "highs" had risen to 102.
But as a result of the decision by Health Minister Mary Harney to ban 200 psychoactive substances, the majority shut down and only 36 owners decided to remain open.
But since then, others have had a rethink as different substances, which were not listed as illegal, appeared on the shelves and business "picked up" again.
Gardai confirmed last night that 48 shops are now operating -- 10 of them in the centre of Dublin.
Other Dublin-based shops are located in Malahide, Dun Laoghaire and Finglas. There are also 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.
However, it is expected that many will shut when new legislation is enacted shortly.
The head shop bill, which is aimed at providing a "catch-all" solution to cope with the emergence of new illegal substances, is due to be published by Justice Minister Dermot Ahern by the weekend.
It will ensure that new products come within its scope as they appear on the shelves and close off the loophole that allows new substances to circumvent the ban.
The legislation will create an offence of selling a psychoactive substance and anyone convicted before a judge and jury will face a maximum sentence of five years' imprisonment and a fine.
Summary conviction in the district court will lead to a maximum 12 months in jail and a fine of €5,000.
The bill, already approved by the Cabinet, will be debated in the Dail and Seanad over the next four weeks. It contains a broad definition of selling and includes distributing, offering for sale and being in possession for sale.
Importing or exporting for sale will also be covered and it will be an offence to advertise any of those substances.
Gardai are being given the power to apply to the district court for an order prohibiting a head shop owner from selling or advertising a psychoactive substance.
If a person fails to comply with an order the court can shut down the premises.
The burden of proof required will be less than is needed for a criminal prosecution.
Mr Ahern pointed out: "As this is a civil rather than a criminal procedure, the proof required will be on the balance of probabilities, rather than beyond reasonable doubt".
He said the courts would also be able to decide whether a person knew or was reckless about the substance being sold for human consumption.
The legislation will also contain provisions to crack down on cannabis factories and give powers to gardai and customs officers over the sale, importation or export of a substance through the internet.