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Only 44 head shops still operating after ban on legal highs

THE Government's ban last month on psychoactive substances in head shops has seen 60pc of the stores closing, with only 44 still operating.

Gardai have also said their strategy together with last month's ban on a wide range of legal highs had led to a 75pc drop in robberies, most of which they directly linked to addicts of head shop products.

At the height of their power there were 102 head shops operating in Ireland before April 26 but the number has plummeted to 44 by June 14 because of the Garda's Operation Kingfisher and the ban, on May 11, of substances, including the deadly mephedrone.

Operation Kingfisher took on a two-pronged approach which seemed to have the desired effect. The first involved the divisional chief superintendent and the local superintendent visiting each shop and warning the owners they may be in breach of the law on reckless endangerment.

The Non-Fatal Offences Against the Persons Act 1997 defines reckless endangerment as: "A person shall be guilty of an offence who intentionally or recklessly engages in conduct which creates a substantial risk of death or serious harm to another."

The new bill uses this offence, but words it in the context of selling a psychoactive substance.

Gardai subsequently sent files to the Director of Public Prosecutions on the 13 head shops, seeking directions on a charge or reckless endangerment. Gardai have submitted evidence that head shop assistants gave advice on consuming legal highs labelled not fit for human consumption.

A second part of the Garda campaign involved calling in landlords renting out premises to head shops and urging them to take responsibility.

Justice Minister Dermot Ahern has explained how the new legislation brought in last month has had a dramatic affect on the viability of head shops.

"On 11th May regulation of certain psychotropic substances was introduced and a number of these premises subsequently closed down," he said.

"As of 14th June, records at the Garda National Drugs Unit show a total of 44 head shops operating nationwide, with 42 having closed since 26th April, 2010.

"The situation is being closely monitored by the Commissioner, his senior management team and the D/Chief Superintendent, of the Garda National Drugs Unit.

"Under the bill, the sale or supply of substances which are not specifically proscribed under the Misuse of Drugs Acts, but which have psychoactive effects, for human consumption will be a criminal offence.

"The bill will give appropriate powers to An Garda Siochana and the courts to intervene quickly to prevent outlets from selling these products by way of appropriate prohibition orders. The scheme will also contain full search and seizure powers for the gardai and Revenue's Customs Service."

hnews@herald.ie