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Ireland's head shops under attack

Bombings of head shops, which sell legal drugs, have sparked debate about Irish drug policy.

Members of the Dublin Fire Brigade tackle a blaze at the Nirvana head shop on Capel Street on Feb. 12, 2010. (Niall Carson/PA Wire)

DUBLIN, Ireland ─ It started with an explosion that destroyed the Nirvana shop in Dublin’s Capel Street on Feb. 12.

Five days later a Molotov cocktail was thrown into the Happy Hippy store in North Frederick Street.

Since then seven retail outlets with similar exotic names have been attacked with incendiary devices in different parts of Ireland, the latest being the Magic Bus Stop in Dundalk on April 15.

They are all so-called "head shops," which specialize in the sale of legal drugs and associated paraphernalia. There are 70 such stores in the Republic of Ireland, and clearly some organization or group of citizens wants to put them out of business.

The head shops' products have become something of a craze among Ireland’s middle-class youth. This makes them lucrative business ventures in recession-hit Ireland. In a two-hour period on a recent Friday night, a television crew recorded 400 young customers lining up at a head shop to pay an average of 40 euros ($53) for drugs with names like Snow Blow and Wild Cat. These substances often contain mephedrone, a chemical in white powder form that mimics cocaine and is completely legal in Ireland.

The head of the Irish police's national drug squad, Tony Quilter, said the force monitors the head shops and so far has found only four selling illegal drugs. The police do not know who is behind the attacks on the head shops, Quilter said. The chief suspects include local drug dealers who are losing business or vigilante groups worried about the effect of the shops on their neighborhoods.

As the public becomes increasingly concerned about the legal drug trend, the Irish government is rushing to prepare a bill to criminalize the sale of legal highs. It has fallen behind the rest of Europe, where 14 countries have introduced measures to control the sale of such substances, with varying degrees of success. A ban on mephedrone came into effect in Great Britain and Northern Ireland three weeks ago, giving a new dimension to cross-border shopping.

http://www.globalpost.com/dispatch/ireland/100427/head-shops-teenage-drug-abuse