Gardaí raid 22 'head shops' suspected of selling illegal drugs


GARDAÍ 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. Gardaí believe at least some of the ingredients are prohibited under drugs legislation.

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 gardaí 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 yesterday.

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.

Gráinne 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".