- 20 Nov 08
Will a garda crackdown on nationwide headshops have a negative impact on the booming herbal high market? And who exactly is tipping them off?
A fortnight ago, on the very day Hot Press went to press with a report on the imminent demise of Spice and the enormous profitability of Ireland’s herbal high market, Drugs Squad officers were raiding head shops and seizing products. At lunchtime, anti-drugs crusader Grainne Kenny was telling Joe Duffy that she wanted to publicly congratulate the Gardai for carrying out the raids, while early media reports mentioned seizure of BZP pills and possible breaches of licensing laws.
The raids had nothing to do with either of these things, nor were they related to the legally available smokeables, including Salvia extracts, none of which were seized by the Gardai. Instead, the targetted raids centred on some of the least popular products on the legal high market. These included pyschoactive cacti, such as San Pedro, and psychedelic seeds like Baby Woodrose, which contain LSA, a close chemical cousin of LSD.
These products inhabit the same sort of legal grey area as did magic mushrooms before they were banned. Just as fresh magic mushrooms were legal to possess and sell prior to January 31st 2006, so San Pedro, Baby Woodrose et al are offered for sale in their raw state. These substances have never been the subject of legislation, and they are not illegal to possess, despite the fact that the active ingredient (mescaline and LSA respectively) is prohibited.
It is therefore almost certain that these naturally occurring substances are entirely legal. This was the Department of Health’s interpretation of the law regarding psilocin containing mushrooms, so it’s hard to see how the DPP hopes to bring successful prosecutions given the precedent which has already been set by the legislators of the land. After all, if the government of the day didn’t consider magic mushrooms illegal, why did it issue a directive to prohibit them? And if magic mushrooms weren’t illegal then, San Pedro et al aren’t illegal now.
The Gardai wouldn’t provide any details on the motive for the search or anything else for that matter. The Garda press office refused to comment beyond confirming to Hot Press that 22 premises were subject to searches.
It wouldn’t even confirm what substances were seized or where the premises were located. They cited “operational reasons” for their reticence, though the same consideration for discretion didn’t prevent them from trumpeting the raids on RTE’s lunchtime news.
Since the Gardai won’t answer questions, it’s impossible to definitely say what led them to believe that San Pedro and the rest were illegal.
Nonetheless, it doesn’t take a detective to deduce that the source must have an obsessive interest in very obscure psychoactives, and that his/her motivation can only be a desire to see head shop owners prosecuted. Since hardly anybody uses these substances, and since the media and political establishment didn’t even know they existed prior to the raid, where did the impetus for this extensive operation come from?
Step forward Grainne Kenny, whose EURAD (Europe Against Drugs) organisation has been waging a war on head shops for the past number of years. Though she is widely perceived as a crank, Kenny is as forensic as she is fierce, and her EURAD organisation has gone about its work with a relentless focus which has included political and media lobbying.
Her chief media ally is Joe Duffy, who periodically turns his Liveline show over to Kenny; if she could be considered an impulsive attention addict, Uncle Joe plays the role of the well-meaning enabler who can’t bring himself to restrain her outlandish behaviour. The fact that Kenny was off the media mark within an hour of the raids suggests some degree of foreknowledge.
Joe Duffy isn’t EURAD’s only influential friend; Liveline played host to two local councillors who expressed their opposition to the drug-peddling child-snatchers of the headshop industry (or ‘gougers’ as Kenny called them); morally upstanding Arklow town councillor Peter Dempsey added that he “wouldn’t have pornography of any type in this town either”.
In an astonishingly vindictive exchange, Grainne Kenny taunted Nirvana’s co-owner Paddy Grant about having successfully used Cllr. Dempsey’s influence to force local businesses to refuse to rent premises to be used as Nirvana head shop outlets. EURAD aims to secure the support of more local councillors as part of their strategy to harness ‘anti-drug’ sentiment at a local level and direct it against the head shops by any means possible - including threatening boycotts, pickets and, inevitably, the sort of direct action which has characterised ‘anti-drug’ efforts in the past.
Faced with the prospect of angry mobs, protests and petitions, some local business owners in Ireland’s more provincial parts are feeling uneasy about letting their properties to head shop chains. They may be entirely legal businesses, but that won’t stop EURAD from engaging in base NIMBYism. There’s a high probability of future court cases over the right to trade in certain parts of Ireland, and the burgeoning head shop industry is hardly short of the funds to fight local authorities who attempt to stand in the way of their legitimate dealings.
Ultimately, when cases end up at the High Court, or are taken to the European level, there will be considerable expense involved. One such case is underway and is likely to cost the state upwards of €1 million. If the DPP insists on prosecuting for Woodrose seeds, the potential for legal damages and costs – across 22 cases – is enormous. But maybe it’s a cost that will be worth paying if it teaches the authorities the dire consequences of paying attention to EURAD.