Tuesday, 11 May 2010
Sale of Dangerous Substances
Question 48: To ask the Minister for Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs if he is satisfied that everything possible is being done to prevent dangerous substances being sold for human consumption; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [19056/10]
I assure the Deputy that the Government is fully cognisant of the dangers posed by head shops and the psychoactive substances they sell. I have been working closely with my Cabinet colleagues on an interdepartmental basis to develop effective responses to the threats involved. The Minister for Health and Children is introducing controls under the Misuse of Drugs Acts on a broad range of psychoactive substances, commonly referred to as "legal highs", which are sold in head shops and through the Internet. These regulations will be introduced with immediate effect, following on from approval by the relevant European Union authorities. The regulations will make the possession and sale of the substances involved illegal and subject to criminal sanctions.
Following cross-departmental consideration of the issues involved, the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform brought legislative proposals to Government today to make it a criminal offence to sell or supply substances that are not prohibited under the Misuse of Drugs Acts but that have psychoactive effects on humans. These proposals were accepted by Government and it is hoped to have legislation drafted before the summer recess. In addition, the Government is responding to the problem of head shops on several fronts. For example, as part of the current interdepartmental and inter-agency response to the issue, relevant Departments and Government agencies are reviewing existing legislative provisions to establish whether head shops are in compliance with the legislative provisions applying. The Garda Síochána and Revenue's customs service are closely monitoring the activities of head shops on an ongoing basis with a view to ensuring no substances currently illegal are being sold. The Health Service Executive, in association with partner agencies under the national drugs strategy, is finalising a national drugs awareness campaign that will focus on the dangers of psychoactive substances available through head shops and the Internet. In addition, the national advisory committee on drugs has been asked to carry out some targeted research in this area.
I assure the Deputy that I will continue to work closely with my ministerial colleagues in vigorously pursuing all viable approaches to counter the threats posed by head shops and psychoactive substances.
I thank the Minister for his reply. We must do everything possible to prevent the sale of some of the products found in head shops throughout the State. My question as tabled referred to SI 62 of 2004 of the European Union, which governs the packaging and labelling of dangerous products. Unfortunately, that part of the question was not accepted. I am interested to discover whether this provision can be used to outlaw the sale of dangerous products in head shops. I welcome today's announcement by the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform of the banning of certain chemical products. My colleagues and I have repeatedly queried the delay in taking such initiatives. It is obvious now that action can be taken quickly if it is pursued vigorously enough. Members of all parties have been asking for six months that this issue be taken seriously and dealt with in legislation without delay.
I will bear in mind that danger. Section 2 of the Misuse of Drugs Act 1977 allows the Government to make an order declaring any substance or product to be a controlled drug for the purposes of that Act. By order of today, the Government has banned a list of substances including methadrone, methylone, synthetic cannabinoids, BZP and piperazine derivatives. All such substances are now controlled drugs for the purposes of the State's drugs legislation. Possession of a controlled drug is illegal and attracts criminal penalties. It can be prosecuted in either the District Court or the Circuit Court depending on the direction of the DPP as to the seriousness of the offence. The courts have power to impose either a fine or imprisonment for possession of a controlled drug and have other powers designed to assist drug users to overcome an addiction. Possession of a controlled drug for sale or supply attracts significant penalties. The 1977 Act provides that a court will look to the quantity of drugs possessed to determine whether it is for sale or supply. Where the value of the drug is more than €13,000, a sentence of life imprisonment may be imposed. These provisions potentially have significant implications for the operators of head shops. However, I cannot prejudice any actions the Garda or the DPP may take in the future.
In regard to the labelling directive, SI 64 of 2004, I understand from my colleague, the Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Innovation, who has responsibility in this area, that the regulations transpose into Irish law directive 1999/45/EC of the European Parliament and of the Council on the approximation of laws, regulations and administrative provisions of member states in regard to the classification, packaging and labelling of dangerous preparations. The regulations require persons placing a dangerous preparation on the market to classify and label it according to its inherent hazards. In the context of the current inter-agency and interdepartmental response to the question of regulating the activities of so-called head shops, the scope for using the provisions of this statutory instrument is being examined.
When I spoke to the HSE last week, it was virtually ready to roll out the campaign. I am anxious for it to begin, if possible, before the first primary schools go on holiday at the end of the month.