A TOUGH new legal crackdown is being drawn up to deal with the surge in the number of headshops around the country.
Three Government departments, the Attorney General and the National Advisory Committee on Drugs are looking at ways to control the sale of "legal highs" as parent and anti-drugs groups turn up the pressure for a ban on the shops.
Headshops are now being monitored on an ongoing basis by gardai and Revenue officers while the new regulations and controls are drawn up.
The National Advisory Committee on Drugs has been asked by Health Minister Mary Harney to research the whole area -- taking particular account of the legal approach recently adopted in Britain.
The Department of Enterprise Trade and Employment is looking at issues around consumer protection and both public liability insurance and product liability insurance for these shops.
The Department of Environment has been asked to look at planning issues for shops that sell the "legal highs".
There has been uproar over these shops which have sprung up across the country and which legally sell substances that mimic the effect of illegal drugs such as Ecstasy and cocaine.
Minister Eamon O Cuiv, who has responsibility for the National Drugs Strategy, says that while the increasing number of head shops is causing concern across Europe "no EU member state has come up with a comprehensive response".
Ms Harney hopes to have regulations to controls on a range of substances ready by the end of the month.
However, she added that that any laws to ban these substances would need EU approval and could take some time.
The "legal highs" contain substances which have legitimate use in the pharmaceuticals and plastics industries and so cannot be banned outright.
The new, tougher regulations will make the possession and sale of these substances illegal and subject to criminal sanctions.