Gardaí seize 4.5 tonnes of ‘legal highs’

MORE than 4.5 tonnes of drugs worth tens of millions of euro were removed from head shops in a Garda operation following a Government ban on May 11.

The colossal haul, confirmed by Justice Minister Dermot Ahern, is twice the amount of cannabis seized in 2009 and three times the freak 1.5 tonne seizure of cocaine off Cork in November 2008.

While gardaí do not have a valuation on the haul, estimates based on the shop price of a gramme of the products suggest a total retail value of tens of millions of euro, possibly more.

And officers are not finished weighing the haul and are only three quarters of the way through. That could put the final tally closer to 6 tonnes. The haul fills a large storage room at Garda Headquarters.

“It is a huge quantity and stuff is still coming through from some [Garda] divisions,” said a Garda source.

“Our concern is what level of stuff was going through the head shops.

“It is phenomenal and shows how much head shops were impacting on the illegal drug trade.”

As part of Operation Kingfisher, gardaí visited all 102 head shops within 24 hours of the sudden ban, on May 11.

They told shop owners that specified drugs were now illegal and requested they surrender them voluntarily, which they did.

The Garda National Drugs Unit, which coordinated the operation, took away five rigid truck loads of products from two distribution centres in Dublin.

The ban prohibited a long list of drugs, including nearly all cannabis-type smoking blends along with a range of powders and party pills.

Gardaí have now broken down the haul into the three categories, making a valuation difficult.

Some of the total weight is also from boxes and other packaging.

The typical price of the powder packets seized was around €30. If all the products were powders, which typically weighed a gramme a packet, it would suggest a total valuation over €100 million.

However, it is not known what proportion of the haul are powders.

It is also difficult to give a price of pills per gramme, as they sold in packets of 3-5 tablets for between €20-€35. The smoking blends sold in the same price region.

Taking a low average of €20 a gramme, it would suggest a valuation of up to €90m, again minus packaging.

Confirming the tonnage, Justice Minister Dermot Ahern said his legislation would “outlaw the sale of psychotropic substances” generally in these shops.

The Criminal Justice (Psychoactive Substances) Bill 2010 has passed all stages of the Oireachtas and is expected to be signed by the president soon. The Justice Minister will then issue a commencement date.

It is understood there are some concerns at Garda level that the law will not be straightforward to implement.

It contains many new, and untested, Garda powers.

However, experienced officers suspect head shop owners may not risk continuing trading, saying they would be taking a “huge gamble”.


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