An innovative new law entered into force in Ireland on 23 August in response to the proliferation of retail outlets there commonly known as ‘head shops’ (1). These shops sell a wide range of psychoactive substances or ‘legal highs’ that are not controlled under the Irish Misuse of Drugs Acts, but the effects of which can be similar to those of controlled drugs, such as cannabis and cocaine.
New psychoactive substances can emerge quickly on the market and there is inevitably a time-lag before an individual substance can be subjected to legal controls. In this light, the new Irish law was passed to prohibit the sale in general of any dangerous or harmful ‘psychoactive substance’. (Medicinal and food products, animal remedies, intoxicating liquor and tobacco are excluded).
Entitled the ‘Criminal Justice (Psychoactive Substances) Act 2010’, the new law makes it a criminal offence to advertise, sell or supply, for human consumption, psychoactive substances not specifically controlled under existing legislation. These are legally defined as substances which have the capacity to stimulate or depress the central nervous system, resulting in hallucinations, dependence or significant changes to motor function, thinking or behaviour.
Under the new law, high-level police officers are empowered to intervene quickly by serving a ‘prohibition notice’ on an offender. If the offender does not comply with this notice, the courts can issue a ‘prohibition order’.
Selling, advertising and non-compliance with a ‘prohibition order’ are punishable by up to five years in prison. However, no offence or punishment is set out for the users of these substances.
Brendan Hughes and Johnny Connolly
(1) Criminal Justice (Psychoactive Substances) Act 2010.
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