Pubdate: Fri, 07 Nov 2008
Source: Irish Times, The (Ireland)
Copyright: 2008 The Irish Times
Author: Connor Lally


GARDAI INVESTIGATING the suspected sale of illegal drugs over the 
counter in shops have raided 22 premises across the country in a 
co-ordinated operation led by the Garda National Drugs Unit (GNDU).

The investigation, codenamed Operation Fluorine, targeted so-called 
"head shops", which sell products billed as natural highs.

The shops were raided yesterday starting at noon in counties Dublin, 
Cork, Galway, Louth, Laois, Longford, Westmeath, Tipperary and Kildare.

A large quantity of merchandise was taken away and will be analysed 
to see if it contains ingredients based on illegal drugs. If 
prohibited substances are found the owners of the businesses where 
they were on sale face prosecution under the Misuse of Drugs Act.

The owners could be charged with possessing drugs for sale or supply 
in the same way that criminals caught with harder drugs, such as 
cannabis, cocaine and heroin, are prosecuted.

The Irish Times understands the operation was specifically targeted 
at the detection of two hallucinogenic plant-based products. Gardai 
believe at least some of the ingredients are prohibited under drugs 

Although a stimulant product called "herbal E" containing 
benzylpiperazine has been the subject of much public debate in recent 
years, that product was not the target of yesterday's operation.

Yesterday's searches were the culmination of a three-month 
investigation led by GNDU but also involving drugs units and local 
gardai in the areas where the shops are located.

Det Supt Barry O'Brien of GNDU said the investigation was not 
focused, as some reports suggested, on whether the shops were 
licensed to sell the products in question. Instead, it was narrowly 
focused on determining if illegal ingredients were contained in the 
seized products being sold over the counter.

No arrests in relation to the products can take place until the 
analysis determines if they contain illegal elements. However, one 
person was arrested in the course of yesterday's searches in 
connection with possession of a controlled drug.

Products were taken for analysis from all but one of the shops raided 

It is unclear from where the products had been imported into the 
State. However, they are often processed and packaged in the UK or 
mainland Europe before being shipped to Ireland as legitimate goods for sale.

Grainne Kenny, international president of Europe Against Drugs, 
congratulated the Garda on yesterday's operation. She said many shops 
around the country were "selling drugs that are potentially very risky".
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