A 48-year-old headshop owner who pleaded guilty to possessing a psychoactive drug for sale or supply in one of her headshops was today fined €15,000 for the offence.
Helen Stone pleaded guilty to possessing Salvinorin A for sale or supply at the Funky Skunk, Lavitt's Quay, Cork, contrary to Section 3 of the Psychoactive Drugs Act, on April 14th, 2011.
Det Sgt Lar O’Brien said gardaí carried out an inspection of the shop on the day in question and found some 949 packets of the substance which was labelled as incense.
Det Sgt O’Brien said gardaí suspected the packets contained a psychoactive substance which was proven to be true when the packets were sent for analysis to the State Laboratory.
The packets contained Salvinorin A and were labelled with values ranging from €20 to €60 depending on their concentration, Det Sgt O'Brien told Cork Circuit Criminal Court.
Stone had bought a kilo of the drug over the internet for 170 Canadian dollars but the total value of the drugs if sold according to values on the labels was €31,910.
Stone had told gardaí the substance was to be used as incense and not for human consumption, but when questioned she admitted smoking the substance herself.
Det Sgt O’Brien said tests showed the substance to be a potent hallucinogenic with dissociative effects, producing feelings of detachment among those who take it.
Stone, from Kilnaacnaposse, Kealkill, Bantry, was not in the shop when gardaí searched it, but she later voluntarily met gardaí at the Bridewell and assisted with their inquiries.
Det Sgt O’Brien agreed with defence counsel Blaise O’Carroll SC the drug was legal when Stone bought it, but the law changed with the enactment of the Psychoactive Drugs Act 2010.
Mr O’Carroll SC said his client, who was from the UK, had moved to west Cork in the 1990s and became interested in herbal remedies and had opened four shops in Cork and Kerry.
She had bought the Salvinorin A legally, paying import duty on it when she bought it in 2008. All of her dealings with the State in relation to it at the time were normal, he said.
Stone was most anxious to remain within the law and although she was no longer involved in the Funky Skunk, she continued to own three other similar shops in Cork and Kerry.
Judge Donagh McDonagh noted Stone had mounted a technical defence against the charge but when that challenge failed, she immediately pleaded guilty, and that was to her credit .
He said he accepted the drug was legal when she purchased it but she would have been aware of a level of controversy over such substances from 2004 until the law changed in 2010.
“It appears that there may have been a little camouflaging of the substance - whether it was to be used for human consumption or as incense,” he noted.
He noted that Stone had no previous convictions and he believed his sentence had to reflect her guilty plea. He did not believe her offence should attract a custodial sentence.
The drug had been bought for 170 Canadian dollars and had a sales potential of €31,000 and while it would be invidious to base any fine on that valuation, the fine should be significant.
He said he believed the appropriate fine was €15,000 for the offence and gave Stone six months to pay, with six months in jail if she fails to pay the fine within that time.