Pubdate: Thu, 4 Mar 2010
Source: Irish Times, The (Ireland)
Copyright: 2010 The Irish Times
Author: Eoin Burke-Kennedy


THE GOVERNMENT'S decision to ban several substances sold in head shops
does not go far enough and will fail to halt the trade in so-called
"legal highs", Opposition parties have warned.

The ban, which comes into effect in June, applies to a range of herbal
and synthetic substances sold commonly as Spice, Charge+, Snow Blow,
White Ice, Magic, Liquid Ecstasy, BZP Derivatives and Mephedrone.

While the move was broadly welcomed by healthcare professionals
yesterday, Fine Gael and Labour claimed the shops would find legal
loopholes to sell alternative products, and further regulations were
needed to control the trade.

"The reality is that head shops currently operate as legitimate
businesses, and until proper legislation is implemented they will be
still able to sell legal highs containing a variety of unknown
ingredients, many of which pose very serious health risks," Fine Gael
spokeswoman on drugs policy Catherine Byrne said.

While the ban finally brought the Republic in line with other European
countries, Ms Byrne said there was a need for further regulation, as
well as licensing laws for head shops to monitor the sale of these

Labour health spokeswoman Jan O'Sullivan said: "A range of responses
are necessary if these shops are to be controlled and regulated so
that the public, and particularly young people, can be protected from

The Minister in charge of the National Drugs Strategy, John Curran,
said the ban was prompted by the rapid proliferation of head shops
across the country in recent months, which were selling a range of
dangerous substances.

Mr Curran said his department was also looking at other measures to
regulate the head shop industry through the use of the planning and
consumer laws.

One option being considered is the establishment of a system similar
to the one governing off-licences, which would allow local councils
input into the location and opening hours of the shops.

But Mr Curran warned many of the substances were also being bought
over the internet and via home delivery services, and the key to
dealing with the problem was not simply closing the shop, "but going
after the products".

The Government also yesterday announced the establishment of a
research advisory group to monitor new products coming to the market,
and their negative or detrimental health effects.

Helen Stone, proprietor of five head shops in the Republic, including
the Funky Skunk shops in Cork, and Deep Route Gardening in Limerick,
described the ban as "shortsighted".

"People are just going to go back out on to the streets, and buy the
substances without knowing anything about the quality," Ms Stone said.

But the chairman of the National Advisory Committee on Drugs, Dr Des
Corrigan, insisted there was an immediate threat to public health from
several materials being sold in head shops.

"Even if you had a regulated head shop system, some of these products
are so dangerous that no regulatory authority would allow them on the
market," he said.

His views were echoed by Dr Bobby Smyth, consultant psychiatrist at
the Health Service Executive Youth Drug and Alcohol service in
Tallaght, who described the Government's move as "positive and prompt".

"The challenge will be that when the next batch of the substances
arrive on the scene in six months or two years' time that they respond
as quickly," he said. 
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