Head shop headache worsens

In the last edition of The Liberty, we featured an article about head shops. By that time there had already been attacks on two different shops.

The first was at the Nirvana head shop on Capel Street in February. As a result of this fire, the building housing the head shop as well as a sex shop next door and another adjoining property had to be demolished amid safety concerns. It has since been established that this was a deliberate arson attack.

The second fire was at the Happy Hippy head shop on North Frederick Street one week later. This was also a deliberate act, with two men walking into the premises, dousing it in petrol and setting it alight.

Since then the head shops have barely been out of the news, with further attacks against them.

Recent Head Shop Attacks

The next incident occurred in Athlone at the beginning of March, when two explosive devices were found outside head shops. These devices were made safe by the army bomb disposal squad.

The following day, Utopia in Sligo, which is both a head shop and sex shop, was targeted. Two men were arrested in relation to this incident but were subsequently released without charge.

The bomb disposal squad was again called into action at the end of March, to carry out a controlled explosion when another device was discovered outside yet another head shop, this time in Letterkenny, Co. Donegal.

On 7 April, a car loaded with petrol cans was set alight outside Rasta Power in Balbriggan. Two weeks later, another car was set on fire outside the same shop, this time causing damage to the exterior of the building.  These were followed by further attacks in Drogheda and Dundalk. The Cosmic Gate and the Magic Bus in Dundalk were both vandalised, with a window smashed at the Cosmic Gate (€1000 worth of legal highs were stolen in this raid) and a vehicle rammed through the front of the Magic Bus. Just a week later, the Magic Bus was attacked again when a man threw a container of petrol and a petrol bomb through the door.

Nobody has been seriously injured or killed as of yet, but it is undoubtedly only a matter of time before someone does if these attacks continue.

Gardaí and Protesters Step Up

Marches have taken place in Castlebar protesting against head shops and further demonstrations have taken place in Roscommon.

Last week, Gardaí raided a number of head shops around the country and seized some products in order to analyse if any of the products for sale contained illegal substances. These tests turned out negative.

There has been plenty of speculation as to who is responsible for the attacks, with some claiming they are the work of dissident republicans, drug dealers or vigilante groups taking the law into their own hands.

Garda Commissioner Fachtna Murphy has claimed that head shops were “gradually filling the space” in areas where people had been denied access to illegal drugs as a result of Garda successes in tackling drug gangs.

According to the Irish Times, other Garda sources “have played down reports that arson attacks on head shops are the work of drugs gangs angered at the loss of trade. Gardaí believe that the loss of the gangs’ revenue has been minimal.”

As a consequence of all the negative publicity, workers in the head shops have stopped advising customers on how to consume the products. Now they simply claim to be only selling incense, plant food and bath salts. This could well lead to customers taking too much of a product and causing themselves serious harm.

New Legislation and New Problems

We reported in our last edition that it would probably be another three months before the head shops were banned. A week later, legislation was passed (due to come into effect in June) banning a whole range of products currently stocked in head shops.

In the last year alone, there have been 24 new legal high products launched. One glaring problem, as we have already seen with BZP, is that as soon as one of these products is made illegal, a new one will be introduced immediately to replace it.

The other problem, besides the losses in tax revenues, is that by making such products illegal, criminals will then step in to take over. It has been reported that criminal gangs are already buying up huge quantities of the currently legal highs in order to sell once they become illegal – criminals who will ‘cut’ these highs with other substances to maximise profits and who most definitely will not be asking for age identification from their customers.

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