Property owners who are anxious to lease out vacant premises have been warned by a Mayo TD to be wary of the types of businesses approaching them. This comes as head shops, which sell legal drugs which enable people to get highs without breaking the law, are cropping up all over the country, including in Castlebar and Ballina.
Deputy Michael Ring has also called on the Government to ban Mephedrone, a substance which has replaced the banned drug BZP, before lives are lost.
“The warning signs about products being sold in head shops have been clear for well over a year. However, nothing has been done since March 2009, when the Health Minister banned the drug BZP, which was being sold as ‘legal ecstasy’ or ‘party pills’ in head shops,” Dep Ring said.
Mephedrone has already been banned in Norway, Finland, Denmark, and Sweden after an 18-year-old died after taking the drug and Dep Ring said it is time for it to be banned here too.
A conference was held on Tuesday in Mullingar to discuss the issue of head shops. Officially launched by Minister John Curran, some 320 people were in attendance.
It is not known specifically how many head shops operate across the country; however they are able to operate legally. They sell party pills, powders, and smoking mixtures that contain chemicals that give similar effects to illegal substances. These chemicals are not illegal under current legislation and the products they sell are often termed ‘herbal’ which gives them a connotation of being safer to consume. People are told that they are not for human consumption and this enables them to get around the customer protection legislation.
Shane O'Connor, chairman of the Irish Head Shops Association, said in 2007 when the issue of head shops hit national headlines: “All association members subscribe to a code of conduct, whereby nobody who is intoxicated or less than 18 years of age gets served.” Although this is a voluntary conduct, it has not been made law. In reality, minors could walk into shops and purchase these items which give them legal highs if the shop owner does not refuse to sell to them. “It’s a voluntary code, but we’d be happy for it to be made law,” continued Mr O'Connor.
Castlebar Labour town councillor Harry Barrett commented: “Few, if any of the products sold in these shops, include a comprehensive list of ingredients on their packaging and many of them are sold with misleading branding and labelling. In addition, generally speaking, these shops do not take out product liability insurance, so if a problem does arise, the scope for a customer pursuing the matter is extremely limited.”
There have been a number of cases where minors have got hold of and used some of these ‘herbs’. In December alone, six young people were admitted to Cork University Hospital suffering some ill-effects of 'legal highs’. Some people as young as 16 have snorted these substances up their nose and suffered terrible side effects.
Last year, the chemical benzylpiperazine, or BZP, which was in several “party pills” on the market in Ireland, was made illegal.
“Vigilance is needed among property owners and other businesses in the county,” Dep Ring continued. “We need to stop these head shops from springing up in Mayo. Prevention is always better than cure. I want to make certain that our young people are not exposed to the dangers of these drugs.” He has warned that lives will be lost if the Government continue dragging their feet on the matter.