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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.

But lawmakers will have a hard time keeping up. Twenty-four new, legal, chemical-based drugs emerged in Europe last year to satisfy a continent-wide demand for synthetic highs, according to a report from the European Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drug Addiction. Nine of these are marketed as plant foods or spices but can be smoked to give a similar effect to cannabis.

Mephedrone has been linked to a number of deaths in other countries, and much publicity has been given to the case of a young Dublin man, Daryl Smith, who tried to commit suicide after taking an overdose. Smith was waiting at a bridge to jump under a train and then tried to stab himself with a screwdriver. The 19-year-old student is typical of educated teenagers who would never buy illegal drugs but regularly get high on mephedrone.

With the proliferation of new drugs, the Irish minister for community affairs, Pat Carey, wants to prohibit head shops operating as legal entities. Banning the substances may not be enough, he argues. According to the Monitoring Centre report, suppliers easily circumvent drug controls by offering unregulated alternatives. The composition in terms of synthetic additives is constantly changing to evade control measures, and new packaging appears all the time.

Irish Justice Minister Dermot Ahern agreed that one of the problems of banning a substance was that a variation of that product could be quickly introduced. He is aiming to change the law “to deal with the issue from a criminal justice point of view, as well as from a health point of view.” But some members of Ahern's own Fianna Fail party sharply disagree. Parliament backbencher Jim McDaid said his approach would be a huge mistake, as it would allow criminal gangs to take over the businesses.

Because of the adverse publicity they have received recently, some head shops have begun distributing leaflets offering home delivery. In some parts of Dublin it is now as easy to get artificial cocaine or cannabis delivered to your door as it is to order a pizza.