I propose to take Questions Nos. 10, 15, 23, 46 and 49 together.
As Minister with responsibility for the National Drugs Strategy, I see headshops and the psychoactive substances they sell as representing a relatively new aspect of the ever-evolving issue of substance misuse in our society. I am determined, as are my Government colleagues, to tackle the problems arising and to pursue all available approaches to counter the potential threats involved.
The steps taken by my colleague, the Minister for Health and Children, Deputy Harney, in May in introducing regulations under the Misuse of Drugs Acts have had a significant impact. These regulations make the possession and sale of more than 200 products subject to criminal sanctions under the Misuse of Drugs Acts. The introduction of controls sent out a clear message, in particular to young people, about the dangers of psychoactive substances sold through headshops and via the Internet. It also places Ireland to the fore in the context of the control of new psychoactive substances in EU countries.
Prior to the introduction of these controls, the Garda Síochána had identified 102 headshop outlets. The number subsequently fell to 34, although some have since re-opened. Given the evidence at a global level, it was expected that efforts would be made to source alternative substances to put on sale both in headshops and through the Internet. The Minister for Health and Children is monitoring this situation with a view to controlling further substances under the Misuse of Drugs Acts, if that proves to be necessary.
Against this background, the Government approved proposals from the Minister for Justice and Law Reform, Deputy Dermot Ahern, for a Criminal Justice (Psychoactive Substances) Bill. I strongly believe that this legislation, together with the Misuse of Drugs Act, will provide a comprehensive legislative response to the psychoactive substances and headshop issues. Under the provisions of the Bill, it will be a criminal offence to sell or supply substances that are not prohibited under the Misuse of Drugs Act, but that have psychoactive effects on humans. In addition, the proposed legislation will make it an offence to sell objects for cultivation by hydroponic means, thus tackling another aspect of drug production. A further critical feature of the Bill is the significant powers envisaged for the Garda Síochána. The Bill has been debated in the Seanad and is scheduled for Second Stage debate in the Dáil tomorrow.
With regard to the level of my interaction and that of my officials with the Garda Síochána, there is ongoing engagement with the Garda through the structures established under the National Drugs Strategy. These include the Oversight Forum on Drugs, the Drugs Advisory Group, and periodic meetings with the Minister for Justice and Law Reform and the Garda Commissioner, as provided for under the strategy. Apart from such organised structures, I am in contact with representatives of the Garda Síochána on an ongoing basis in relation to various drugs issues. I would also point out that the gardaí are involved as members of the 24 drugs task forces across the country and I want to acknowledge their input in this regard.
Meanwhile, the activities of headshops are being closely monitored on an ongoing basis by the Garda Síochána and Revenue's customs service with a view to ensuring that no illegal substances are being sold. The HSE, in association with partner agencies under the drugs strategy, is finalising a national drugs awareness campaign focusing on the dangers of psychoactive substances. I will launch that campaign next week. The national advisory committee on drugs is also carrying out some targeted research in this area and relevant Government agencies are reviewing existing legislative provisions to establish if headshops are in compliance with the provisions applying.
I assure the Deputies that I will continue to work with my ministerial colleagues in vigorously pursuing all viable approaches to counter the threats posed by headshops and the products they sell.