Nationwide head shop crackdown continues

A NATIONWIDE Garda crackdown on head shops will continue today after a ban on a wide range of so-called “legal highs” was announced by the Department of Health.

The Irish Examiner has also learned that a second wave of substances – not covered by the ban – will be outlawed later this year.

Under the legislation, anyone selling the banned range of substances faces up to life in prison.

Most of the country’s 102 head shops closed early yesterday as news emerged that the ban, which was supposed to come into effect in July, would be announced later in the day.

However, some leading head shops did stay open during the afternoon and experienced a steady trade.

Garda teams entered shops that didn’t close and directed staff to hand over all products containing the banned substances. Staff were told that if gardaí believed they had failed to hand over the items, they would return the following day with warrants to search their premises.

Gardaí said substances had been handed over voluntarily, but no overall quantity was available yet.

Garda sources also told the Irish Examiner that some shops had been “cleared out” and that in one case, involving a major supplier, a “van load” of substances were removed.

Gardaí have also contacted owners of head shops that were closed to gain access to their premises.

The operation is being coordinated by the Garda National Drugs Unit and carried out by Garda divisions across the country.

Gardaí said that for legal reasons, they were not initially raiding the shops. “They are all being visited and told these products are illegal, you are breaking the law, hand them over.

“We’re telling them that if they don’t, or we believe they still have these products, we’ll be back tomorrow with a warrant.”

Senior officers said that “no quarter” will be given to head shops after this and that the force will be “relentless” in pursuing them.

Health Minister Mary Harney announced the ban at lunchtime after the European Commission told the Department of Health the three-month notification period that was thought to have been necessary under EU law was not required.

The ban came as Justice Minister Dermot Ahern received Cabinet approval for draft legislation to ban the sale of all mind-altering substances for human consumption. Mr Ahern said under the guidelines, gardaí have the power to seek a court order through a civil procedure and “ask the district court to close down the shop on the basis that they’re selling these legal highs”.

Meanwhile, Dr Des Corrigan, chairman of the National Advisory Committee on Drugs, said they were working with the Department of Health to bring in a second order to ban substances that could replace those outlawed.

He said there were 13 remaining substances called cathinones, and 37 chemicals, called pyrovalerones (both stimulants), which could be sold legally.

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