Thursday, 1 July 2010
Dáil Éireann Debate
10. Deputy Catherine Byrne asked the Minister for Community, Equality and Gaeltacht Affairs the steps being taken to stop the spread of head shops and to remove potentially dangerous substances known as legal highs from the market; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [28802/10]
15. Deputy Róisín Shortall asked the Minister for Community, Equality and Gaeltacht Affairs his views on whether any future ban on headshop products will ensure the complete ending of this type of outlet. [28767/10]
23. Deputy Joan Burton asked the Minister for Community, Equality and Gaeltacht Affairs the position regarding headshops; if the proposed legislation is taking account of the constant changing market in relation to such shops; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [28754/10]
49. Deputy Joanna Tuffy asked the Minister for Community, Equality and Gaeltacht Affairs the number of meetings that he has had with the Garda in relation to headshops; and if he will advise the gardaí in relation to same. [28765/10]
As Minister with responsibility for the National Drugs Strategy, I see headshops and the psychoactive substances they sell as representing a relatively new aspect of the ever-evolving issue of substance misuse in our society. I am determined, as are my Government colleagues, to tackle the problems arising and to pursue all available approaches to counter the potential threats involved.
The steps taken by my colleague, the Minister for Health and Children, Deputy Harney, in May in introducing regulations under the Misuse of Drugs Acts have had a significant impact. These regulations make the possession and sale of more than 200 products subject to criminal sanctions under the Misuse of Drugs Acts. The introduction of controls sent out a clear message, in particular to young people, about the dangers of psychoactive substances sold through headshops and via the Internet. It also places Ireland to the fore in the context of the control of new psychoactive substances in EU countries.
Prior to the introduction of these controls, the Garda Síochána had identified 102 headshop outlets. The number subsequently fell to 34, although some have since re-opened. Given the evidence at a global level, it was expected that efforts would be made to source alternative substances to put on sale both in headshops and through the Internet. The Minister for Health and Children is monitoring this situation with a view to controlling further substances under the Misuse of Drugs Acts, if that proves to be necessary.
Against this background, the Government approved proposals from the Minister for Justice and Law Reform, Deputy Dermot Ahern, for a Criminal Justice (Psychoactive Substances) Bill. I strongly believe that this legislation, together with the Misuse of Drugs Act, will provide a comprehensive legislative response to the psychoactive substances and headshop issues. Under the provisions of the Bill, it will be a criminal offence to sell or supply substances that are not prohibited under the Misuse of Drugs Act, but that have psychoactive effects on humans. In addition, the proposed legislation will make it an offence to sell objects for cultivation by hydroponic means, thus tackling another aspect of drug production. A further critical feature of the Bill is the significant powers envisaged for the Garda Síochána. The Bill has been debated in the Seanad and is scheduled for Second Stage debate in the Dáil tomorrow.
With regard to the level of my interaction and that of my officials with the Garda Síochána, there is ongoing engagement with the Garda through the structures established under the National Drugs Strategy. These include the Oversight Forum on Drugs, the Drugs Advisory Group, and periodic meetings with the Minister for Justice and Law Reform and the Garda Commissioner, as provided for under the strategy. Apart from such organised structures, I am in contact with representatives of the Garda Síochána on an ongoing basis in relation to various drugs issues. I would also point out that the gardaí are involved as members of the 24 drugs task forces across the country and I want to acknowledge their input in this regard.
Meanwhile, the activities of headshops are being closely monitored on an ongoing basis by the Garda Síochána and Revenue’s customs service with a view to ensuring that no illegal substances are being sold. The HSE, in association with partner agencies under the drugs strategy, is finalising a national drugs awareness campaign focusing on the dangers of psychoactive substances. I will launch that campaign next week. The national advisory committee on drugs is also carrying out some targeted research in this area and relevant Government agencies are reviewing existing legislative provisions to establish if headshops are in compliance with the provisions applying.
Will there be anything in the legislation to deal with that? Some 48 head shops are open at present. What levels of resources are being given to the Garda and the HSE to make sure the new products that are introduced on a daily basis are dealt with?
Deputy Jack Wall: The excellent document produced by Drugnet shows what we are fighting against. I support what Deputy Ring is saying. I ask that these head shops be kept under constant surveillance so that all new products are dealt with. It is clear from the Drugnet document that these products are changing on a daily basis. If we are to protect the youngsters who frequent these establishments, we have to ensure that constant surveillance results in these products being banned. I appreciate the efforts that have been made to date to ban these substances.
Deputy Pat Carey: I understand that the possibility of exploiting the Internet for the sale and purchase of these products is to be severely restricted. The inclusion in the list of banned products of “whack” and “amplified”, both of which are derivatives of previous products, shows that the measures which have been introduced to date are working. I suggest that our legislation is very effective.
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