Criminal Justice (Psychoactive Substances) Bill 2010: Second Stage

Question proposed: "That the Bill be now read a Second Time."

I am pleased to initiate the Criminal Justice (Psychoactive Substances) Bill 2010 in the Upper House, to which I express my appreciation for agreeing to deal with the Bill at short notice. This is a robust, innovative and urgent Bill, in which I am providing that it will be an offence to sell, import or export unregulated psychoactive substances for human consumption. In addition and very importantly, I am providing powers for the Garda Síochána and the courts to issue prohibition and closure orders in respect of persons or premises where the sale of such products continues, despite notice to cease.

In the last year we have seen the emergence of a new problem in our society with the proliferation of retail outlets known as head shops which have appeared on the main streets and in the suburbs of our cities and even in villages and towns. These outlets are engaged in the sale of a range of unregulated psychoactive substances. This trade operates behind a veil of technical legality, with products marketed as legal highs. This approach gives the impression that they are safe to use, thus enticing people, including teenagers and young adults who would not ordinarily take illegal drugs, to purchase them. Of course, they also attract the drug using population which consumes these products as alternatives, or in addition, to controlled drugs such as cannabis, cocaine and heroin. The products are sold with no information on content, no directions for use and no standards of control of quality or safety are applied. On the contrary, there is a deliberate attempt at circumventing the legal framework for the control of medicinal products by labelling them as bath salts or plant food.

There are serious medical concerns that these unregulated products may be as harmful as illegal drugs such as cocaine and ecstasy. Only this week a coroner in Kildare warned of the dangers of head shop products following the tragic death of a 19 year old woman who had taken two head shop products — mephedrone and butylone — together with prescribed drugs, alcohol and heroin. The two products in question have since been controlled under the Misuse of Drugs Acts by the Minister for Health and Children.

I have a further serious concern. It is that head shops are also acting as an unprecedented gateway to illicit drug abuse and criminality, especially for our young people. The House will not be surprised to hear, therefore, that I put little store in the argument that it is somehow wrong to criminalise the sale of these products because in doing so we will increase the market potential for drug traffickers. These products can be equal to controlled drugs in the threat they present to public health and safety. Those who trade in them should not be allowed to escape the application of the law, nor should they be allowed to avail of a veneer of respectability. It is a dangerous trade which operates without regard to the consequences for its customers or society in terms of health and safety, addiction and criminality.

The Bill is part of the Government's multi-pronged approach targeting the activities of head shops. The primary vehicles for regulating psychoactive substances are the Misuse of Drugs Acts 1977 to 2007. On foot of the Government order of 11 May, the Minister for Health and Children made the necessary statutory instruments to make the possession and sale of certain substances subject to criminal sanctions under the Acts. These regulations covered the mainstream of substances then commonly being sold in head shops, including synthetic cannabinoids — SPICE products, benzylpiperazine, BZP, derivatives, mephedrone, methylone and related cathinones, GBL and 1,4 BD. I am advised that following the making of these orders, many of the 102 head shops then open closed but about 36 reopened shortly afterwards, reportedly selling different substances. In the last couple of weeks the tally of shops reopening has risen and I understand the records of the Garda national drugs unit indicate that 48 head shops were trading nationwide on 10 June. Such a trend does not surprise me, but I do not intend to allow it to continue.

Experience shows that new psychoactive substances can quickly emerge. There is a big international market for these products and skilled chemists in places as far away as China are ready and eager to use their expertise to create new products in response to the lure of large profits associated with this market. We have seen how quickly products such as Whack and Amplified have come onto the Irish market following the banning of mephedrone and other such substances by the Minister for Health and Children. The National Poisons Information Centre has received reports on patients presenting to hospital emergency departments with symptoms of extreme agitation and anxiety having consumed this product. The Minister for Health and Children is monitoring the sale of such products with a view to listing them as controlled drugs, if that proves necessary. However, it is clear that there will always be a time lag before such new substances can be made subject to control under the Misuse of Drugs Acts.

The speedy emergence of such substances indicates the need for a more general criminal law catch-all approach to the sale of dangerous psychoactive substances. It is my strong belief such an approach, as contained in the Bill, is necessary to criminalise the sale of psychoactive substances as they emerge. In this way I am acting quickly to prevent the sale of unsafe products, especially to young people. I am stepping in now to stymie any regrowth potential in the head shop industry. The focus of the Bill is on seeking to ensure the sale or supply of substances which have not been specifically proscribed under the Misuse of Drugs Act, but which have psychoactive effects, for human consumption will be a criminal offence. The offence can be prosecuted as an arrestable offence, attracting a penalty of up to five years imprisonment. This puts the offence in the serious category and as such, it will be automatically subject to various powers such as the power of arrest. It is also my intention to ensure such offences under the Bill will be treated as serious offences for which bail can be refused. Accordingly, I will bring forward an amendment to the Bill to add these offences to the Schedule to the Bail Act 1997.

Some criticism has been voiced that the Bill will not work because it does not incorporate a structure to bring together expertise to identify psychoactive substances. This criticism misses two important points. First, under existing arrangements, when considering whether substances should be controlled under the Misuse of Drugs Act, the Minister for Health and Children already has access to expertise on drug misuse and harm. Controlling substances under the Misuse of Drugs Act is an ongoing process which involves national and international co-operation and engagement. Substances are scheduled under the Act in accordance with Ireland's obligations under international conventions and European Council decisions or where there is evidence that they are causing significant harm to public health in Ireland. At national level, the Department of Health and Children works closely with my Department, the office of the Minister of State with responsibility for drugs, the national advisory committee on drugs, the Garda, the Customs service, the Forensic Science Laboratory, the Irish Medicines Board, the Health Research Board and others to monitor emerging trends in the development of new psychoactive substances. At international level, the Department engages with the European Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drug Addiction and the United Nations Office of Drug Control on international trends in the emergence of new substances and drug control.

I will not, particularly given the state of the public finances, contemplate the duplication of the extensive controls operated under the Misuse of Drugs Acts. The Bill recognises that while the specific identification and control of substances are invaluable as a long-term approach, no matter what expertise is available, it will not deal sufficiently on its own with the creative capacity of the head shop industry to seek to circumvent the law on controlled drugs by constantly developing new products. It is for this reason that I am proposing in the Bill a catch-all approach to ensure the criminal law can deal with those who seek to undermine the controls operated by the Minister for Health and Children on the sale of dangerous psychoactive substances.

In the Bill I am also providing an immediate legal weapon for the Garda and the courts. I am providing that gardaí can apply to the courts for a prohibition order prohibiting any person from selling a psychoactive substance for human consumption where the person refuses to obey a Garda prohibition notice to cease such trade. The procedure in question, unlike a criminal prosecution, is a civil procedure. It is similar to procedures in other legislation such as the Food Safety Authority of Ireland Act 1998 which provide for immediate action in circumstances where public health or safety may be at risk. Accordingly, the onus of proof is on the balance of probabilities which is less onerous than that applying to the prosecution of criminal offences. Breach of the order will be a criminal offence. In addition, I am providing that the court can order the closure of a premises where an order has been breached, in addition to any other penalty that the court may impose.

Under the terms of the Bill, those who sell unregulated potentially dangerous substances for their psychoactive effect will also risk criminal investigation and prosecution. The prosecution may take time to gather the necessary criminal evidence but head shop traders should be under no illusion. Those who thought they were safe to peddle newly-marketed substances may also find themselves in due course defending their position before the criminal courts. The legislation is designed in such a way that it can have no impact on legitimate trade and will not apply to products which can be legally sold for human consumption such as medicines and food.

The Bill is intended to operate in conjunction with a number of other avenues which are being pursued, including regulations under the Misuse of Drugs Acts. A number of such measures are already in train. The activities of head shops are being closely monitored on an ongoing basis by the Garda Síochána and Revenue's Customs and Excise Service with a view to ensuring no substances which are currently illegal are being sold. The HSE, in association with partner agencies under the drugs strategy, is finalising a national drugs awareness campaign that will focus on the dangers of psychoactive substances available through head shops. The National Advisory Committee on Drugs has been asked to carry out some targeted research in this area. In addition, as part of the multi-pronged approach relevant Government agencies are reviewing existing legislative provisions to establish whether head shops are liable for prosecution under a range of legislation.

The general scheme of the Bill was notified to the European Commission under the technical standards directives. The notification invoked the emergency procedure, which means the usual three-month stand-still period would not apply. I am pleased to say the Commission has accepted the need for urgent legislation on this matter and indicated in the letter it sent confirming the legislation was ruled correct to proceed under the directive that it was to introduce European-wide legislation in this area. In effect, our legislation is ahead of what even the European Commission is doing on a European wide basis.

I turn now to the main provisions of the Bill. Section 1 defines terms used in the Bill. Section 2 excludes from the scope of the Bill products which are subject to licence, authorisation or other control. These exemptions include medicinal products, animal remedies, intoxicating liquor, tobacco and food. Controlled drugs, which are subject to the Misuse of Drugs Acts, are also excluded to avoid duplication. The section also provides that the Minister can, by order, exclude other products. This provision has been included in the unlikely event that a legitimate substance inadvertently comes within the scope of the legislation.

Section 3 provides for the offences of selling, importing and exporting psychoactive substances for human consumption. Subsection (1) provides for the offence of selling a psychoactive substance knowing or being reckless as to whether it is being acquired or supplied for human consumption. The definition of selling is broad and, by means of section 1, includes supplying, distributing, offering for sale and being in possession for sale. It includes sale over the Internet or home delivery services within this jurisdiction. Subsection (2) provides that it will be an offence to import or export a psychoactive substance for human consumption.

Subsection (3) provides for a rebuttable presumption that the accused knew or was reckless as to whether the substance was being supplied or acquired for human consumption where, notwithstanding any indication given on packaging etc. that a substance is not for human consumption, the court is satisfied, having regard to indications that the substance may have psychoactive effects, the presence of drugs paraphernalia at the place to which the application relates and whether there is a reasonable alternative lawful purpose for the substance, taking into account its cost and quantity, that it is reasonable to assume the accused had such knowledge or was so reckless. Subsection (4) provides that the court may be satisfied of the matters referred to in subsection (3), notwithstanding any oral or written statement or indication given on packaging etc. that the substance in question is not psychoactive or intended or fit for human consumption.

Subsection (5) provides that it is a defence for a person accused of an offence under this section to prove that he or she is a person referred to in section 6(2),which ensures the lawful professional activities of doctors, pharmacists etc. will be outside the scope of the offence provisions.

Section 4 creates the offence of selling an object knowing it will be used to cultivate by hydroponic means any plant, fungus etc. in contravention of section 17 of the Misuse of Drugs Act 1977. Hydroponic cultivation is the cultivation of plants in liquid containing nutrients, without soil, and under controlled conditions of light, temperature and humidity. This method of cultivation is known to be used for the purpose of growing cannabis indoors and is also known to be one of the products commonly sold in head shops. However, I am aware that this type of equipment can be sold by garden centres for legitimate purposes. For this reason, I am providing that it is only an offence to sell such products when the person knows that the product may be used for the cultivation of substances in contravention of the Misuse of Drugs Act.

In the general scheme of the Bill, I am providing for the offence of selling any pipe or other object made or adapted for use in connection with the consumption of a controlled drug or psychoactive substance. However, in view of the urgency of the Bill, I have decided not to proceed with this provision as there are difficulties to be overcome in dealing with the fact that such objects can have legitimate uses.

Section 5 provides for the offence of advertising a psychoactive substance or object to which section 4 applies. Subsection (1) provides that it will be an offence for a person to publish or display any advertisement knowing or being reckless as to whether the advertisement indicates an intention to sell, import or export a psychoactive substance for human consumption or to sell any object for use in cultivating by hydroponic means any plant etc. in contravention of section 17 of the Act of 1977. It will also be an offence to publish an advertisement promoting the consumption of a substance for its psychoactive effect and providing information on how or where a psychoactive substance may be obtained, or to publish an advertisement providing information on how an object may be used to cultivate by hydroponic means any plant etc. in contravention of section 17 of the Act of 1977. Subsection (2) provides that it is a defence for a person accused of an offence under this section to prove that he or she is a person referred in section 6(2),which ensures the lawful professional activities of doctors, pharmacists etc. will be outside the scope of the offence provisions.

Section 6 provides that certain categories of persons, such as doctors, dentists etc. who sell or advertise psychoactive substances will not commit an offence if their actions are lawful for the purpose of their profession.

Section 7 provides that a Garda superintendent, or higher, may serve a prohibition notice on a person where he or she believes the person is unlawfully selling psychoactive substances for human consumption, unlawfully selling hydroponic equipment or advertising psychoactive substances. A prohibition notice will specify the activities in respect of which the Garda opinion is held and the reasons for it, will direct the person to cease forthwith the activities specified in the notice and set out the possible consequences of failure to comply with the direction specified in the notice.

Section 8 provides that where a Garda superintendent, or higher, is of the opinion that a person is not in compliance with a direction contained in a prohibition notice, he or she may apply to the District Court, on notice to the person concerned, for an order prohibiting the person from engaging in specified activities. The court may make a prohibition order if, having considered the evidence before it and all the circumstances of the case, it is satisfied the person against whom the order is sought has engaged in the activity specified in the prohibition notice and it is necessary to prevent the person from continuing to engage in such activity. The circumstances which the court may take into account include indications that the substance may have psychoactive effects, the presence of drugs paraphernalia at the place to which the application relates and whether there is a reasonable alternative lawful purpose for the substance or object, taking into account its cost and quantity. The court may decide not to make a prohibition order where it considers that making the order would be unjust in all the circumstances of the case. This is a civil rather than criminal procedure so the proof required will be on the balance of probabilities rather than beyond all reasonable doubt. A person who fails to comply with a prohibition order will be guilty of an offence. A person who is the subject of a prohibition order may appeal the order to the Circuit Court.

Section 9 makes provision for the variation of prohibition orders by the District Court. Section 10 provides that where a person is convicted of an offence under section 3, 4, 5 or 8(6), the court may make a closure order where the activities are being carried out at specified place. A person who fails to comply with a closure order will be guilty of an offence.

Section 11 provides that the District Court may vary or discharge a closure order on application by the occupier or owner of the place concerned or a Garda superintendent and sets out the procedure for such applications. Sections 12, 13 and 16 provide for Garda powers to search suspects and search and seize in regard to places, vehicles, and so on. Section 14 extends these powers to officers of Customs and Excise in cases of unlawful importation or exportation of psychoactive substances. Section 15 provides for an offence of obstructing a Garda or Customs officer in the exercise of his or her functions under the Bill.

Section 17 makes provision for the designation of laboratories for the examination of substances for the purposes of the Bill. The forensic science laboratory is specifically designated as such a laboratory.

Section 18 contains provisions relating to evidence in proceedings under the Bill. Section 19 provides for the disposal of things seized for use in evidence in criminal proceedings under the Bill.

Section 20 provides that a person guilty of an offence under the Bill is liable on summary conviction to a fine of €5,000 or imprisonment for up to 12 months or both or on conviction on indictment to a fine or to imprisonment not exceeding five years or both. It also includes standard provisions relating to offences by bodies corporate and forfeiture of substances on conviction for an offence under the Bill.

Section 21 is a technical jurisdiction clause. Section 22 is a standard provision relating to expenses incurred in the administration of the Bill. Section 23 extends the powers of search and seizure of Customs officers at ports and points of entry to the State in relation to controlled drugs under section 2 of the Customs and Excise (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act 1988 to psychoactive substances.

Section 24 is a standard provision relating to making regulations and laying orders made by the Minister before each House of the Oireachtas. Section 25 provides for the Short Title of the Bill.

The House will appreciate that this is a important Bill which has community safety at its heart. It gives a strong message to those who seek to put that safety at risk and who seek to undermine the legal framework of this country in regard to controlled drugs. The clear and unequivocal message of the Bill is that such actions will not be tolerated.

I appreciate the level of support expressed for the Bill. I again thank the House for its co-operation in allowing me to bring it forward as a matter of urgency and I look forward to the debate on its provisions. I appreciate the forbearance of the House in bringing forward this legislation at relatively short notice. It is my intention, with the co-operation of the Opposition in both Houses, to have the Bill passed before the Oireachtas rises for the summer recess.

The Bill has two main provisions. One is the criminal offence of the sale, supply, distribution and so on of psychoactive substances. However, the more important provision is the one that I pushed in my discussions with the Attorney General and my officials, that of the use of the prohibition and closure orders in regard to these premises. This will be the avenue most used by the Garda Síochána in rooting out this evil in our society. It is designed specifically as a civil procedure so that the proof required will not be as stringent as that required in a criminal procedure; the proof required will be on the balance of probabilities rather then beyond reasonable doubt. This will give reasonable notice to the people involved to enable them to challenge the prohibition order or the closure order that may be made by the court.

I very much recommend that the Bill be passed through the House expeditiously in order that we can give the Garda Síochána these additional powers which, ultimately, will be added to the powers of environmental officers under the Misuse of Drugs Act which has been promoted by the Minister for Health and Children and which has had a dramatic effect on the head shop issue in recent times. It is necessary to have this overarching or catch-all legislation to take care of this issue. In this battle we are fighting a moving target in that new products are constantly coming on the agenda.

I thank the Minister for the detailed presentation of this Bill. It is a case of the Legislature catching up with events on the ground. Psychoactive substances are currently controlled under the Misuse of Drugs Act and under the changes made to that Act in May of this year, but they have not been sufficient to deal with this problem. It is the malleability of these drugs and the ability to change and tweak the type of drug that is being sold which creates the problem for the Oireachtas in dealing with this matter. This was brought to our attention very tragically by the death of Colm Hodkinson in Dún Laoghaire. It highlighted the difficulty we have in the Misuse of Drugs Act. He had taken magic mushrooms, which had been banned in January 2006. It takes an event such as that to bring forward measures and evidence of the extraordinary effects, both physical and mental, these legal highs have had on individuals, particularly young people, throughout the country.

While it is essentially a matter for member states to deal with this problem, I welcome the fact that in regard to this legislation the European Commission has operated the acceleration or emergency procedure under the technical standards directive and given the go ahead for it. It is also to be welcomed, as the Minister indicated, that the European Union will take a more active role in identifying and proscribing these types of substances. The work of the European Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drug Addiction has a key role to play in this respect. It has the best intelligence, it can source the information from different member states and act as a co-ordinating body at European level in identifying the types of products and acting quickly to adopt legislation. That would be of assistance to all member states dealing with this matter

Since 11 May when the Government made the Misuse of Drugs Act 1977 (Controlled Drugs) (Declaration) Order 2010 which brought a large number of the legal highs under the control of the Act, there has been identification of the emergence of a series of new legal highs, which shows how difficult it is to deal with this problem and it also highlights the importance of this legislation. The HSE has issued a warning on a new legal high known as Whack. Deputy Reilly, our Fine Gael spokesperson on health, has also identified this drug, which has been the subject of 40 reports of severe adverse reactions. These reports were issued to the National Poisons Information Centre. This legislation is important. It has my full support and that of our party. We are anxious that it would be brought into effect before the summer recess.

The HSE confirmed on 1 June that 33 of 102 head shops around the country are open once again. They are not being deterred by the legislation introduced on 11 May. I hope this legislation will have the desired effect.

I refer to a number of aspects of the legislation. In terms of equipment and utensils connected to the use of legal highs, I note the Minister said it is not his intention to proceed with a provision in that respect given the urgency of this legislation.

I also note the statement in the presentation given by the chief pharmacist at the Department of Health and Children to the committee on 1 June, that many substances fall between two stools and are neither food nor medicinal substances. The regulatory impact analysis, which was conducted by the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform, stated:

... equipment and utensils are currently offered for sale in headshops and ... placing controls on the sale of such products would be beneficial. This approach would not have any significant direct cost implications. However, as such a provision could create difficulties for needle exchange programmes and services, the Bill will not include such a provision.

I do not see that this is a justification for not dealing with these implements. We can simply have an exception for needles. The Bills digest, produced by the Oireachtas Library and Research Service, points out that these headshops sell paraphernalia that are synonymous with the use of drugs, such as bongs or water pipes, materials for rolling and lighting cigarettes, and scales. Many of these implements could be easily identified when sold in association with these legal highs and prohibited substances. I see no reason for them not to be included in the Bill, and I ask the Minister to examine that. It is a gap in the Bill and closing that gap would strengthen the Bill.

The new powers given to the Garda, the onus of proof placed on vendors, the powers of search and seizure and the prohibition order which can be introduced by a superintendent are all welcome measures. There needs to be a specific action programme, drawn up with the help of the Garda, to implement this legislation, given the urgency and the impact of these legal highs. The feedback from such a programme would be very helpful in informing future legislation and finessing the existing legislation.

The Minister for Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs indicated that there would be planning changes to prevent new headshops opening, and that this could be dealt with under the change of use of premises. I see no reference to that in the legislation and I wonder if the Minister before us can clarify whether it is intended to address that issue at some stage.

Members of the Alternative Traders of Ireland Association argue that the trade will be pushed underground and will become unregulated. That is a fallacious argument. Given that these legal highs are gateway drugs, particularly for young people, there is no basis in being deterred from introducing this legislation. The reaction to the Bill has been positive and the Dun Laoghaire Rathdown local drugs task force has welcomed it. Having been a former member of that task force, I appreciate that its members are well informed about what is happening on the ground.

The Bill's digest report shows the evidence of the effects of these drugs and states the following.

In ten days at the start of June 2010, 40 reports were received by the National Poisons Information Centre regarding persons suffering severe adverse reactions, including increased heart and breathing rates, raised blood pressure, anxiety and psychosis. Dr. Chris Luke, an Emergency Department consultant at Cork University Hospital and the Mercy University Hospital (MUH) in Cork, wrote of some of the dozen cases he had seen in the six months to January 2010 and the intense pressure casualties of legal highs were putting on emergency care facilities. Dr. Luke had previously written about the dangers of BZP and the number of patients he had seen with adverse effects.

The evidence is overwhelming. The innovation in the Bill is about how the drugs are defined. They were defined singularly under the Misuse of Drugs Acts. The broader classification is the most innovative part of the Bill and is to be welcomed.

I reserve the right to put down amendments on Committee Stage, but I do not wish to delay the introduction of this legislation, which is to be broadly welcomed.

The Minister described the legislation as robust, innovative and urgent, and he is right. That the British Home Secretary, Ms Theresa May, has expressed an interest in looking at our model of dealing with the problem is a compliment to the Minister and to his staff. They have dealt in an imaginative way with the problems we have encountered in the past year in trying to come to terms with this menace to our society.

We had a very good debate in the Senate some time ago on this matter, and the menace caused by head shops was robustly discussed on that occasion. The word "head shop" conjures up different images to people and most ordinary Irish citizens learned about these head shops through programmes like "Liveline" and did not really know what they were about. For example, there was such a shop in Wexford called "The Stone Zone" and I passed it many times before I realised what it was. This menace hit us before we knew what it was and it was underground for a long time.

One would wonder about the role of the local authorities in stopping the proliferation of these head shops, and whether they could be considered a dangerous use. The Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government should look at this issue, in conjunction with the multi-pronged approach that has been taken by the various Departments in dealing with this matter.

This is a strong Bill, banning the sale, supply, export and illegal importation of psychoactive substances, without giving a definition similar to that used in the Misuse of Drugs Acts. It deals with things like bath salts that are sold in a glittery package or plant food that is clearly for human consumption. The catch-all manner in which the legislation is framed is excellent and it will assist the Garda and the courts in dealing with this matter.

The clever tool of using the prohibition notice and the prohibition order, with the balance of probabilities rather than beyond reasonable doubt as the burden of proof, is also an imaginative way in which we can readily close head shops. These substances are also on sale in other shops, such as Chinese medicine stores and sex shops. I hope we will not see a proliferation of them as a result of this but the legislation is far reaching and wide enough to capture the next move being considered. The fact that the people involved consider their next moves was clearly shown, as Senator Regan stated, after an order was made by the Minister for Health and Children on 11 May to make illegal the possession and sale of certain substances such as snow and methadrone. We saw the immediate closure of head shops but 33 of them reopened the following week. This showed how difficult it is to be ahead of the curve on this issue. Given how it is being dealt with in the Bill, once it is passed we will be ahead of the curve and I hope we will see no more of these counter-culture shops.

We need to be mindful that experience shows that by and large when one tells children not to do something, they will do it. From speaking to teenagers who took legal highs I got the impression that they felt justified in taking them because they were legal. According to the teachers of these students, they would come into school on Monday mornings with their brains fried and they could not deal with it. They could see a deterioration in their students over a period.

I welcome the Minister's statement that the national drugs awareness campaign will step up a gear. We will no longer be able to bandy about the phrase "legal highs" because substances having a psychoactive affect will be illegal. Experience has shown that new substances can quickly emerge on to the market but the Bill will control how we deal with these products as they emerge. It contains the flexibility we need to tackle a market as slippery as it is wrong.

The use of Whack is very frightening and leads to a range of symptoms which affect the heart and breathing rates and cause raised blood pressure. GPs have described the level of anxiety in at least seven cases as psychotic episodes. This is widely known by those of us who have studied the effects of head shop products. For younger people who merely consider them as legal highs this message has not yet got through. It is hoped that through a good education campaign people will take personal responsibility. Recently, with regard to alcohol we have seen that the more we campaign and educate young people the more they are inclined to take an informed decision and be personally responsible.

On occasion in recent months, there have been queues of several hundred people outside head shops on Saturday nights. Certain politicians have called for head shops to be regulated. However, society is not at a point where they can be regulated and licensed to allow people make their own decisions. These products are dangerous and we do not have enough information on their effects to regulate or licence them. Accident and emergency consultants speak about children and young males in their mid twenties taking psychoactive substances at parties and having their brains fried. There is a very strong societal need for this Bill. It is madness to call for the legalisation of head shops at present because as a society we are nowhere close to being able to go down that road.

Last week I spoke to a young drug addict who told me he thought head shops were a godsend because he could cheaply obtain legal alternatives to cocaine and ecstasy. The products are far cheaper than black market cocaine and ecstasy. I use the word "addict" quite loosely; some people who take recreational drugs do not consider themselves to be addicts but there is a pattern of regular usage so they are addicts. This is what the Bill will stop; when it passes into law we will stop people obtaining cheap alternatives to black market drugs, and people will know the products are not legal. The phrase "legal high" is a misnomer; the products damage people and are dangerous. The Government is quickly moving towards an innovative solution that will probably be examined by other jurisdictions when they deal with the matter.

The Minister has put much thought into the Bill. It will be challenging to implement it. It gives the Garda Síochána and the courts power to close the premises and will make it very difficult for the sellers. The selling of bongs and counter-culture paraphernalia can be used by gardaí to assist in proving that the seller is selling psychoactive products and the courts can close down the relevant store.

We must ask insurance companies why they insured head shops. I believe it has become far more difficult for them to be insured now. The Bill will send a clear message to the parents of children who tell them the products are legally available that they are not. Anything with a psychoactive effect will be considered to be a dangerous substance and will be dealt with as such. In the wider debate, the greatest concern is that if addicts can avail of something freely and easily they will use it and we need to keep such people at the centre of the debate. In passing the Bill into law we will assist such people.

The Minister described the Bill as robust, innovative and urgent, and I agree with him. I thank the Minister for the time he has spent on putting his stamp on the legislation to make it very difficult for this underground industry, and we saw that it is an underground industry when head shops were bombed by feuding gangs. Regardless of how they want to paint themselves, the people involved recklessly provide substances that can cause serious damage and harm to people taking them and to their families. This is a Bill which the community needs and for which it has been crying out in recent months. I commend the Bill to the House and I also commend the urgency and speed with which the Minister's staff brought it to the House.

I welcome the Minister and I also welcome the Bill. I do not envy the Minister; it seems that no matter what he does somebody will find a way around it and he will have to return with further legislation. I think I live in a protected world. I was unaware of head shops. I listened to Senator McDonald who said hundreds of people were queueing on a Saturday night to go to them. I was unaware of it. I did not understand the situation until I heard about a person who ran a legitimate shop, which was a totally different business, near where I live, who was closing his shop because he was planning to open three head shops. It was a couple of months ago and I have not followed up to see whether he did so.

I was interested to note that the Garda Síochána said last month that the number of head shops had been reduced from 102 to 36. However, it was reported last week that more head shops have re-opened since the publication of a list of banned substances. Different substances which were not listed as illegal appeared on the shelves and business picked up again. I do not know how true these anecdotes are. The Minister gave us a great deal of information in his very detailed explanation of the Bill today. It gives some indication of how difficult it is to police the situation.

I read an interesting quote from forensic toxicologist, Professor Jenny Button, who is head of the toxicology service at St. George's University, London, who said, "Through clever chemistry an illegal drug can be changed into a legal one. It is going to be a case of constantly playing catch-up". The Minister is constantly playing catch-up because that is the challenge facing us. For instance, a range of new drugs have recently arrived in Ireland ready to fill the gap left by methedrone, something which the Minister and Senator Regan mentioned.

There is also the fact that more than 40 reports of severe adverse reactions to a new head shop substance called Whack have been received by the National Poisons Information Centre, as Senator Regan told us. The HSE recently said users of the product had suffered a range of symptoms including increased heart and breathing rates, raised blood pressure and anxiety. At least seven of those treated experienced psychotic episodes which the HSE said were severe and proving very difficult to treat. Kildare County Coroner Professor Denis Cusack, speaking last Monday, warned about the danger of drugs sold in head shops following the death of a young woman from an overdose of multiple drugs, including two products sold as so-called legal highs, a case to which the Minister referred. Professor Cusack confirmed it was the first time he had dealt with a case where it appeared so-called head shop drugs were a contributory factor in a death.

This Bill will mean that anybody convicted by a jury of selling a psychoactive substance and who comes before a judge will face a maximum sentence of five years' imprisonment and a fine. It is a serious crime but some people will question its harshness given the lenient nature of sentences we have seen handed out to murderers, rapists or child abusers. Some of the public will legitimately question the Government's crime priorities. It is not in the Minister's hands to influence judges but it appears that there is an imbalance on occasions in the sentences handed down.

While people caught selling illegal substances will face long prison sentences with this Bill, I wonder how strictly the measures will be enforced. I say this as I read last month that so-called legal highs were being openly sold on the boardwalk on the Liffey every morning. How can we be sure that the new measures included in this Bill will be enforced? The other problem is that by making head shops illegal it may drive the problem underground. There is also a legitimate question to be asked in wondering if drug dealers are buying up spare stock from the head shops that have been shut down. Could they use the former legal highs as a lead-on to harder drugs? We had heard here how people are tempted along the path to try harder drugs. This is a real and dangerous potential by-product of the Bill, in spite of what we have been doing.

We also have the situation whereby shops may become legal. For instance, shops could offer an illegal delivery service, which is already happening. I am not sure how we handle Internet shopping but it appears that it will be difficult catch up with somebody who is able to make a large amount of money out of these products. I understand that the HSE plans to implement a delayed national awareness campaign on illegal highs at the end of the month. I would like to know if there are any plans to produce a DVD to be sent nationally to show people the physical and mental side effects of taking chemical substances. I believe this is being done in the United Kingdom. Are there any similar plans here?

The Minister has produced a Bill of which we will all approve. It is necessary and I understand from his explanation why he has not included everything he wanted to, but no matter what we do those on the other side will also take steps to continue to trade. I would not be surprised to see, no matter how strong the legislation is, that the Minister will be before the House again because those selling these products see the money and profits which can be made. There clearly is a demand for the products. I support the Bill and encourage the Minister to ensure that its measures are enforced with vigour.

The explanatory memorandum accompanying the Bill which explains in its first four paragraphs its main purposes is very clear and succinct. It refers to head shops being an issue of public concern in recent months, how the Misuse of Drugs Act has not seemed to be satisfactory in dealing with the substances sold in such shops, outlines the Government's multi-pronged approach in terms of the Government order of 11 May prohibiting certain substances and explains the need for this Bill to tie up existing loopholes. There is broad agreement that such legislation needs to be put in place and such powers need to be given and acted upon.

There are concerns about how the Bill addresses the wider issue of drug use here. Senator Quinn outlined many of those questions. The Minister's remit is to take a just approach to this issue and the approach chosen by the Government and the Minister is correct. However, it does not bring us closer to dealing with the wider problem of drug use and abuse here. We all have a responsibility to deal with the societal and health effects which accompany many of these issues. What is of particular concern in terms of the growth of head shops across the country is that it highlighted how young people, in particular, were attracted to the shops and the products they sold and were tempted to use many of the products they contained. As a result of that, there has been a public reaction.

The extent to which this represents a culture which is already in existence and may continue to exist, whether head shops are allowed to retail their substances, is something which we as legislators have to continue to address. We need wider debate on that subject. Whether head shops exist for young people, we will still have many serious problems, in particular in the area of polydrug use where young people who are using alcohol as a gateway drug combine it with smoking cannabis, popping pills or ecstasy, often at the same time, with serious personal and social consequences.

In general, the Minister is taking the correct approach in presenting the Bill, its sections and its powers. I am concerned about section 4. I do not know whether the Minister can consider it on Committee Stage or when it goes before the Dáil. Section 4 states:

A person who sells any object knowing that it will be used to cultivate by hydroponic means any plant, fungus, natural organism or substance in contravention of section 17 of the Act of 1977 shall be guilty of an offence.

Hydroponic cultivation is the cultivation of plants in liquid containing nutrients without soil in controlled conditions of light, temperature and humidity. This cultivation is known to be used for the purposes of growing cannabis indoors. However, this is also true of many other horticultural practices. I would like to know how the Minister feels the general prohibition will prevent other horticultural activities not aimed at producing plants such as cannabis. It is a concern many people have.

The main intent of this Bill is to stop access to the end products of head shops. Section 4 has a particular application in that it addresses hardware which can be used in the production of such products. It seems to be a step removed from the intent of the Bill and much of its other sections. Some thought may be needed on coming up with a definition that permits exemptions in this area, perhaps by way of licence, just as other sections of the Bill make exemptions for medical practitioners, doctors and pharmacists. The Bill has broad support across both Houses and the public but we have a responsibility to scrutinise and test its detailed sections. The only section that I can envisage as being open to a particular interpretation that would prevent certain people from engaging in legitimate activity is section 4 and I would be grateful if the Minister gave his consideration to my comments.

I welcome the Bill in general terms. It will have an effect on proliferation and the ability of head shops to sell their products. I do not believe it will eliminate them entirely but I am not even sure their elimination would be a completely positive development. However heinous their activities or the products they sell, they shine a light on activities in our society. Sometimes we need a dark side to show us where to improve society. I look forward to seeing necessary improvements being made to the Bill as it progresses through the House.

I welcome the opportunity to discuss the Criminal Justice (Psychoactive Substances) Bill 2010 with the Minister. The Bill is a response to increasing public concern about the proliferation of so-called head shops. I struggle to come up with a different expression to "head shop" which, like joyriding, has become commonplace in our language. It is a pity we cannot use a more precise or less flippant term.

The Minister noted that 102 head shops were trading when the order was issued in May to bring certain substances within the Misuse of Drugs Act 1977. The order did not ensure the closure of all of these head shops because, as he acknowledged, 48 head shops were still trading on 10 June. The remarkable increase in the number of these shops has led to the increased concern about them.

There is a perception that they cause immense harm. The products they sell have been widely used by persons who are already addicted to substances. Senator Boyle and others raised the issue of polydrug use. Great harm is caused to, for example, those who are already addicted to opiates when they use head shop products to compound existing problems of addiction.

Double standards are evident on many levels, including the portrayal of drug use and head shops in film and other media. While the legal approach is to criminalise, popular culture takes a different view of drug use. We take a very different approach to alcohol, the drug which causes the most harm in society. We allow legal access to alcohol, albeit regulated by reference to age, even though we are aware of the immense personal, social and economic harm that results from the epidemic of alcohol abuse, including the terrible scourge of suicide. We are not seeking to criminalise alcohol in the same way as head shop products and the substances covered by the Misuse of Drugs Act.

We held a more general debate on drug use in December 2007. The then Minister of State at the Department of Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs, Deputy Pat Carey, pointed out the importance of taking a cross-departmental approach and this is also recognised in the Government's national drugs strategy. When we debate legislation aimed at a particular mischief and introducing prohibition orders, we are focusing on criminal law approaches but we must take a holistic and cross-departmental approach when addressing the broader picture of drug use and addiction. The then Minister of State accepted the need to be rational in considering the issue of drugs. We must also devise credible measures to reduce the harm associated with drug abuse and, in particular, to reduce the number of tragic deaths resulting from abuse.

One school of thought suggests that scaremongering is the answer but the people who put themselves at risk by taking drugs are unlikely to listen. Blunt slogans such as Nancy Reagan's advice to just say "No" are no longer seen as effective ways to prevent drug use. It is similar to asking people to abstain from sex to prevent the spread of HIV and sexually transmitted diseases. A more rational approach based on harm reduction and death prevention and involving a credible message could have greater effect. I am not necessarily criticising Government policy in this area because it takes a rational approach to drug addiction with, for example, the HSE methadone programme, which treats addiction as a medical problem, and the stronger commitment to rehabilitation.

However, drug rehabilitation needs to be better resourced if it is to be a goal of sentencing in our criminal justice system. As somebody who has worked in the criminal justice system for years, I have seen at first hand the terrible trauma inflicted on the families of addicts and those who have been victimised by addicts. Heroine addiction does huge damage to communities, individuals and their families. Perhaps the Minister will outline his long-term plans for the drugs court. This court was introduced as a pilot project and while its full implementation has been promised, we have not yet seen progress on it.

I am associated with the drug policy action group, which comprises people working in the area of drug rehabilitation and the front-line provision of services to drug addicts. The group came together with the aim of fostering a rational debate on drug policy and exploring alternative policy means to reduce the harm associated with drug abuse. It suggested that some of our approaches which focus solely on criminal justice have tended to increase rather than decrease the harm associated with drug use. For example, mandatory sentencing may not have an effective impact on reducing the supply of drugs. It strongly argues for a greater emphasis on medical approaches to addiction, including drug rehabilitation for persons in prison.

I acknowledge that great strides have been made in Mountjoy Prison, in which significant problems had previously arisen because of the absence of a methadone regime. However, the incidence of drug use in prison continues to be a concern. I am aware of cases involving people on drug rehabilitation programmes and regulated methadone regimes who became addicted to drugs again while in prison.

We need to investigate harm reduction strategies in other countries, including imaginative targeting of people at risk from the harm associated with drug abuse.

There is an argument for taking a different approach to some drugs, in particular cannabis. In England, for example, the possession of cannabis has been downgraded as an offence. There is a rationality associated with such an approach since there is less harm associated with cannabis use than with the use of other drugs such as opiates and cocaine.

The elephant in the room, the issue that is often not mentioned when we speak about drugs, is disadvantage. We know that a great deal more harm is done in disadvantaged communities by the abuse of illegal drugs, opiate addiction in particular, than elsewhere. Therefore, any approach to drug policy must take into account the issue of economic disadvantage. Having seen families suffer, particularly through the current economic recession, we do not want the disadvantaged communities which have never been lifted by the Celtic tiger to slip into further disadvantage. We certainly do not want opiate addiction to take even greater hold in communities. Drug policy must address the difficulty of economic disadvantage and its impact on drug addiction.

The Labour Party supports the approach taken in the Bill of using a more general control mechanism. The Minister spoke about the difficulty of taking a piecemeal approach to bringing individual substances under the headings of the Misuse of Drugs Act and noted that the chemical compounds simply changed and that it, therefore, became a matter of time before the shops selling these products reopened. The method proposed is more rational and will, I hope, be more effective.

A much wider issue arises with regard to drug policy and our approach to drug addiction and abuse and a much broader range of measures is necessary to target those at risk of drug addiction. We must target educational messages at disadvantaged communities, introduce harm reduction measures and ensure adequate resources are available for drug addiction programmes, including the methadone maintenance programme operated by the Health Service Executive. We must avoid simply locking up addicts without treating addiction which must be viewed as a medical rather than a criminal justice problem.

The Government Chief Whip has indicated he does not object to Senator Buttimer speaking out of turn.

Cuirim fáilte roimh an Aire. I also thank the Whip for allowing me to speak now.

I compliment the Minister on the Bill. Notwithstanding the cross-party support for the legislation, some of the measures taken by the Government to tackle the drugs problem have not worked and Government policy on the wider issue of drugs and drug abuse has created major problems. I look forward to engaging with the Minister for Community, Equality and Gaeltacht Affairs, Deputy Carey, on the issue in the weeks and months ahead.

We must combat the drugs scourge collectively and address the rehabilitation pillar of the national drug strategy which has been neglected. Any measure which clamps down on the sale of legal highs in head shops is welcome. For this reason, I commend and support the provisions of the Bill. It is appropriate that the Garda Síochána will acquire powers to seek to have so-called head shops closed. Why did the number of such shops spiral in recent times? I laugh and cringe when I hear the proprietors of head shops extol their virtues on radio and television and in the print media. They are in business purely for self-interest and to make profits. They do not care how they do so.

It is wrong that head shops sell psychoactive substances and I am pleased efforts are being made to prevent them from doing so. These substances are not fit for human consumption. I have with me a label which extols the virtues of one of the products on sale in head shops. To protect the proprietors of the shops, it cleverly — I use that word glibly — features the words "Not for human consumption". Who do they think they are codding?

I welcome the decision to introduce new offences. This is the correct approach and in line with the model in place elsewhere in Europe and in countries such as New Zealand. I am outraged when I speak to families who have been affected by the products sold in head shops. I am also at a loss to understand the reason it has taken so long to reach this point. I compliment Ms Grainne Kenny and others who have been at the forefront of the campaign to have head shops closed down. Senator Wilson was one of the first Members to speak on the issue when these outlets were in their infancy. Senator McDonald and I also raised the issue in the House.

The legislation shows that the Government can secure change and movement when it achieves consensus. If only it had listened to the Opposition on economic matters, the country would be in better financial shape.

I welcome the measure which shifts the burden of proof from the Garda Síochána to the vendor. There is no doubt that psychoactive substances are being sold in head shops. The label I have refers to "smoke and pills and stuff" and has the brazen cheek to provide a website address. If one telephones a head shop, one will be given a menu of the products on sale. I welcome the decision to address the issue of packaging of head shop products.

Head shops are selling new and potentially dangerous products. Anyone who has a vision of a proper society will welcome the powers provided in the Bill to close down these shops. I am concerned, however, that their proprietors will find a loophole in the law. For this reason, we must ensure there is joined-up thinking as regards the planning laws and the role of local authorities. We live in a democratic state rather than a dictatorship. I wonder however how the planning process can allow head shops to be open. It is important to ensure there is joined-up thinking on this matter between local authorities, the Health Service Executive and the Departments of Justice and Law Reform and Health and Children.

The sale of drugs paraphernalia in head shops such as bongs, pipes and other accoutrements is a complex issue. I hope it will also be addressed at some point because we have an obligation to the weak and the vulnerable and those who do not understand the complexity of the issues involved. To that end, I will address a comment to the Alternative Traders of Ireland Association which has voiced opposition to the legislation. It has not made a compelling argument against the Bill or explained the reason we should support its case. It has ignored concerns about health and well-being and ducked the issue of the dangerous side effects of the products sold in head shops. It did not address the lies told in advertising for head shops, stating instead that their shops were legitimate businesses which paid rent and VAT and provided employment. While that may well be the case, the association does not refer to the damage caused by head shops. I do not subscribe to the view that the drugs trade will be pushed further underground than it is already.

Any study of the products sold in head shops will make support for the Bill compelling. I pay tribute to the many hundreds of parents across the country who have protested, lobbied and advocated for common sense. I thank the Minister for bringing this important Bill before the House for which he has our support. I hope this will be a day when we will see the beginning of the end of these head shops and we will put them out of business for ever.

I wish to share time with Senator Walsh.

I welcome the Minister, Deputy Dermot Ahern. I congratulate him on the speedy response to this horrific problem that has been sweeping across the country. As I have pointed out on several occasions in this House, these shops were springing up in every town and some villages throughout the country on a weekly basis. Thankfully that has ceased.

It used to take approximately 20 years for something that happened in the United States to reach our shores. When I researched the origin of head shops, I was fascinated to discover that the first shops appeared in the United States of America generally in towns where there were student populations almost 40 years ago. It took quite some time for these unwanted shops to appear here. I first became aware of such shops here when it was brought to my attention towards the latter part of 2008 by one of our councillors in Cavan, Councillor Patricia Walsh, that it was proposed to open such a shop in Cavan town.

When I started researching what was on sale in these head shops, I was horrified. In November 2008 I raised the matter on the Adjournment, having researched head shops quite extensively. On that occasion I raised in particular the problem the so-called "party pill" or BZP was causing for our young people. At the beginning of April last year I was glad to be in a position to report to the House that on 31 March 2009, the Minister for Health and Children added BZP to the list of proscribed drugs under the Misuse of Drugs Act 1997.

During research into these products and shops I was horrified at the advertisements that appeared on the Internet. For example, a product called E-Blast, which is similar to the drug now called Whack to which the Minister and other speakers referred, was described on a website as follows:

Like a lightening bolt of pure energy straight to your brain, E-Blast pills are guaranteed to make your jaw clench, your hair stand on end and your feet to want to hit the dance floor. Take that feeling you get when the moon is full, you're looking good and feeling good and out for a night of carnage, you know, the kind of night where colours seem brighter, music sounds better and you feel unstoppable.

I welcome that the Minister for Health and Children, Deputy Harney, announced on 11 May 2010 that an order declaring a number of substances commonly referred to as "legal highs" would be controlled under the Misuse of Drugs Act 1997 with immediate effect. These substances are dangerous and their sale and consumption have caused considerable anxiety to families and communities throughout the country. The possession and supply of these illegal substances are subject to criminal sanction of up to seven years' imprisonment on indictment and a penalty of imprisonment for life applies to unlawful supply, which I welcome.

I again congratulate the Minister on bringing this legislation before us so quickly. The Bill is part of the Government's multi-pronged approach targeting the activities of head shops. The primary vehicles for regulating psychoactive substances are the Misuse of Drugs Acts 1997 to 2007. On foot of the Government order of 11 May, the Minister for Health and Children made the necessary statutory instrument to make the possession and sale of certain substances subject to criminal sanctions under the Misuse of Drugs Acts.

Based on Garda information, I understand that at one stage 102 of these shops were open and now there are approximately 48. I welcome that the head shops in Cavan town and Monaghan town have recently been closed as a result of the activities of the Government. The activities of these head shops are being closely monitored by the Garda and Customs. It might be worth reviewing planning regulations for these shops. There are restrictions on when young people can purchase a burger at night but at the moment there is no restriction on when young people can purchase these horrific substances in head shops, which are entitled under our planning laws to stay open for 24 hours a day. I congratulate the Government on its efforts to close the various loopholes regarding these head shops.

I thank Senator Wilson for sharing time. I also welcome the Minister and compliment him on the introduction of this Bill. It is symptomatic of the energy and focus he has applied to a wide range of criminal offences in trying to plug various loopholes in legislation that were being exploited by criminal elements. In this instance the sale of substances was having an effect on society.

Head shops are a relatively new phenomenon. They identified a wide range of substances which are not covered by the Misuse of Drugs Acts. In that regard we all welcomed the statutory instruments introduced in May by the Minister for Health and Children proscribing the sale of certain substances under the Misuse of Drugs Act. Comments have been made by Members in that regard. That action had significant success in that 54 of the 102 head shops were closed as a consequence. However, there are still 48 operating and I certainly welcome that the new legislation identifies that a time lag in dealing with new drugs that will emerge in the future would be an issue. The Bill introduces general control to address head shop products as they emerge. Other Senators have mentioned that the effects on individuals and their families are dire when people become addicted to drugs. In certain instances people have overdosed and consequently lost their lives or lost their use of reason. Any effort that can be made in this regard is to be applauded.

Section 20 provides for fines of up to €5,000 and up to 12 months' imprisonment for those convicted of these offences. A month or two ago when this issue got considerable coverage in the media and the Minister was applying himself as to how best to deal with it, I discovered anecdotally that one head shop in the south east had a turnover of €10,000 in one week, with €6,000 profit. There is a huge amount of money involved and one can see the motivation behind the growth in the number of outlets which are having a significant effect on local populations and society in general. I noted that quite a number of head shops had been burned down and that in many instances it was suspected that it was arson, probably promoted by competitors in the criminal drug trade who found their businesses had been affected. This brings home the idea that the matter needs to be kept under continuous scrutiny.

In the past month I listened with interest to a radio programme on RTE 1 on which it was outlined how an individual in Britain had examined the history and growth of the gang culture in Britain. In the past young people became involved in gangs to gain a sense of identity and to feel more like adults than young adolescents. Young people became involved in anti-social behaviour and minor criminal activity. It was argued, however, that as they reached 17, 18 or 19 years, they would depart from gangs, take up normal jobs and occupations and become normal members of society. The modern view is that because they become involved at a young age in selling drugs, they may as a consequence become dependent on the income stream and continue into adulthood within the gang structures. Many reach the top of major criminal gangs in Britain. It was estimated by the expert in question — I do not know how accurate it is — that the drugs trade in Britain was worth something in the order of €40 billion a year. It is, therefore, a significant business. I do not know what the basis for the figure is, but it stands at €10 billion for Ireland. We are facing great difficulties, especially as such activity is ongoing. If one were to apply the VAT rate of 21% to the figures mentioned, it would a give a figure of €2.1 billion, which shows the significant amounts of money involved in this business. The time may have come for us to take a fresh look at how effective our measures are and the new initiatives that could be taken. I know the Minister has shown a degree of innovation and initiative in tackling this issue and perhaps it might be extended to a broader range of issues. It is not just an Irish phenomenon, as it affects all western democracies.

I welcome the Minister and the Bill which follows the misuse of drugs order presented in May to proscribe over 200 drugs. Last year drug dealers were coming up with a new version of a drug every two weeks to get around the law. The Bill will close down head shops. There is a provision to make it a civil rather than a criminal offence which means the matter can be dealt with in a civil court using the powers available to a superintendent and that action can be taken more quickly as a result of a reduced burden of proof. As we have all heard the horror stories, this action is timely.

I organised a public meeting in Killarney last Monday night which was attended by 250 people, mostly mothers concerned about their children and others. Many admitted afterwards that they had lacked information on head shops and their impact. Stories were told of how children, in speaking to the Kerry Diocesan Youth Service, had said they saw head shops as legitimate as they were open to the public. A counsellor who had spoken to children as young as 13 years who had fallen under the spell of such drugs said that when asked if they would take cocaine, they had replied that they would not because that drug was illegal. As the products in question are sold as legal highs, their use does not seem to be considered wrong unlike the use of heroin or cocaine.

I compliment the Garda Síochána on its work. Garda Denis Lenihan from the Killarney division spoke about the powers available under the Misuse of Drugs Act, as well as the Bill before us which deals with psychoactive drugs. He also spoke about the powers to be given to superintendents to go into head shops and bring offenders before the courts if they continued to break the law.

The big issue concerns the way parents control their children. Many have stated there are no boundaries on coming home. In fairness to the Kerry Diocesan Youth Service, it has indicated the law can only do so much. Ultimately, parents must know where their children are and indicate the times at which they should come home. If they see signs of drug use, early intervention is critical. Mr. Des Bailey from the service is supposed to concentrate on issues in the Killarney area, but the scope of activities has been extended to cover all of south Kerry because of this epidemic. When 11 people present at the accident and emergency unit in Tralee or in Killarney on a Saturday night suffering from the ill-effects of these drugs, it shows the scale of the epidemic.

It is a myth that soft or gateway drugs such as marijuana are harmless and it was dispelled at the meeting. People are under the impression that it is okay to use marijuana. Ms Leona Cronin from the Kerry Addiction Counselling Service pointed out that marijuana was 60% to 80% more powerful and potent than it was 20 or 30 years ago. There is an 80% chance that one will suffer from a psychotic effect after long-term usage of marijuana. It comes down to getting information to parents through radio programmes and newspaper articles. Their ignorance and lack of information on the symptoms and consequent action to be taken have been admitted. To a degree, that is a failure on our part also to provide the education they need on what should be done in the protection of children.

As outlined by the Minister, implementation of the Bill will take place in the next couple of weeks. Head shops will be closed down, but preparations have been made to move underground, with off-site operations to be set up. A market has been created in the past few months and there is a database of clients in place. These clients will need their fix and will continue to go to the suppliers of the most potent drugs. Whack, the most recent version, has been proved to have a serious effect on a person's mental capacity. Once people take these drugs, their personalities are permanently altered. There is a frightening statistic which indicates that between 10% and 15% of those who dabble in drugs will become addicts. Not all of them recover or get their lives back. This is a welcome move by the Government. The Government has taken this by the scruff of the neck and introduced legislation to close down head shops. They have now been criminalised so we must bring the full force of law to bear on them.

I complimentThe Kingdom newspaper and Radio Kerry on the meeting they organised for Monday last. As some individuals pointed out, that was the longest and most pleasant day of the year to date in Kerry and it was expected to be difficult to encourage people to attend the meeting. However, some 250 people attended to educate themselves in this matter. This is an indication of the concern. I hope the Government, through the citizens information bureaux and other agencies, will take an active role in the context of disseminating information to parents and children on this matter. The children and young adults taking these drugs do not see a problem with them because they were previously seen to be legal. As explained by the Kerry diocesan news service, children who would never have become involved with drugs or spend time in the company of those who were so involved are now involved because the substances with which the Bill deals were previously seen as being legitimate.

The Bill will criminalise this entire area, which will put a stop to more children becoming involved with the drugs scene. That is a welcome development. I ask that, during the summer months, an information campaign be mounted on radio and by means of Facebook. The latter is an easy medium through which to access children and advertising on it is relatively cheap. The European headquarters of Facebook is located in Dublin so that should make matters easy in this regard so that children might educate themselves on the ill effects of the type of drugs to which I refer and what will happen to them if they become involved in using these substances. It would be of assistance if those who previously took these drugs and whose lives have been irrevocably changed as a result, provided testimony in respect of what happened to them.

At the meeting to which I refer, Leona Cronin of the Kerry addiction counselling service pointed out that for every one person who becomes involved in drugs or who becomes an addict, seven others — including family members, friends, and so on — are affected. We must take steps to prevent the effect this can have on society.

I welcome the opportunity to reply to the Second Stage debate on this Bill. I thank all the Senators who contributed to that debate.

There is broad support for the Bill. When we were complimenting its introduction, I stated that we should try to draft legislation that would be as watertight as possible. The Bill is probably as close as we are going to get in that regard. I am under no illusions on the capacity of those involved in the drugs industry to find loopholes. It is our job to close as many of them as possible.

As Minister with responsibility for the national drugs strategy, I view head shops and the psychoactive substances they sell as representing a relatively new but ever-evolving aspect of substance misuse in society. The Government is determined to tackle the problems arising from such misuse and to pursue all viable approaches to counter the potential threats involved. In May, the Minister for Health and Children, Deputy Harney, introduced regulations, under the Misuse of Drugs Act, to regulate more than 200 products. The introduction of these controls and the Bill before the House sent out a clear message, particularly to young people, with regard to the dangers relating to the psychoactive substances sold through head shops and via the Internet.

We always knew there would be a reaction from head shop owners to the controls introduced in the context of trying to source alternative substances. The introduction of new products is a global issue. Substances will continue to be monitored with a view to periodically introducing controls in respect of new products which have the potential to have a detrimental effect on people's health.

I came across this matter when serving as a Minister of State two years ago. At that time, there was some anxiety to the effect that an element of self-regulation might be introduced in respect of this industry. I was not in favour of self-regulation at that stage and I certainly do not favour it now. The capacity of the industry to reinvent itself is worrying. However, legislation such as that before the House probably provides the one sure way for society to clamp down on this pernicious and insidious industry, which has gained quite a foothold in society.

It is against this background that I strongly support the Criminal Justice (Psychoactive Substances) Bill 2010, which, in conjunction with the Misuse of Drugs Act, will provide a comprehensive response to issues relating to psychoactive substances and head shops. The Bill will make it an offence to sell or supply substances which are not prohibited under the Misuse of Drugs Act but which have a psychoactive effect on humans. It will also make it an offence to sell objects that are intended for use in the cultivation of certain plants by hydroponic means, thereby tackling another aspect of drug production. Another substantial feature of the Bill is the significant powers it grants to the Garda Síochána. Like previous speakers, I compliment the Garda Síochána on the effective and proactive approach it has taken since the new regulations were introduced.

The actions taken by governments in other jurisdictions in respect of this matter are being monitored. In the context of its response, Ireland is in the forefront in this regard. The Criminal Justice (Psychoactive Substances) Bill represents another significant step forward. The national advisory committee on drugs is undertaking research on new psychoactive substances of natural and synthetic origin and the outlets which supply them. This will add further to our knowledge in this area.

As the Minister responsible for the national drugs strategy, I will continue to co-ordinate the response to new psychoactive substances across the various Departments and agencies involved. I see this as being crucial in the context of supporting the implementation of the proposed legislation and maximising the likelihood of the desired impact being achieved. Much of what will be needed will involve inter-agency co-operation. In that context, the health service, the Garda and customs will be obliged to work together, including in the development of an early warning procedure in respect of new psychoactive substances.

I compliment the Minister for Justice and Law Reform, Deputy Dermot Ahern, on the prompt action he took in respect of this matter. I also compliment the Office of the Parliamentary Counsel and the Office of the Attorney General for the work they have done in this area.

Senators Regan, McDonald, Buttimer and Wilson referred to planning controls in the context of opening head shops. Most local authorities are in the process of framing their new development plans. In that context, they should include provisions in those plans relating to change of use, the definition of "shop", and so on. Some local authorities, of which Clare County Council is one, have already taken steps in that regard. In conjunction with the Minister for Justice and Law Reform, I will work with the lead Departments to discover how the measures in the Bill and the provisions in existing planning legislation can be further enhanced.

Senator Regan expressed the belief that, despite difficulties relating to legitimate use, the sale of drugs paraphernalia should be an offence. I had hoped it would be possible to include a provision to deal with the matter to which the Senator refers. However, one of the issues that arose was that some of this paraphernalia includes needles, which are used in the needle exchange programmes relating to the treatment of drug misusers. The Minister for Justice and Law Reform is prepared to examine the possibility of whether bongs, pipes and other utensils might be included on the list of items which cannot be sold in retail outlets.

Senator Boyle raised a query on section 4 on the sale of hydroponic equipment. Concerns have been expressed that legitimate hallucinogens could be inadvertently banned under the section. The Minister is aware of these concerns. To commit an offence under the section, it is necessary for a person to know that a substance will be used for the cultivation of controlled drugs. In other words, as I understand it, the commission of an offence does not occur, unless a person knows heating, lighting or other substances will be used for that purpose. However, I will have the matter clarified.

Senators Daly, Quinn and a number of others spoke about the need for an information campaign. In the next couple of weeks the HSE will launch an awareness campaign targeted at young people which will involve the use of different forms of media and attendees at concerts and weekend rock festivals.

Senator Quinn asked if a DVD on the dangers posed by head shop products could be distributed to schools. My Department is exploring having a new phase of an awareness campaign and already operates the Dial to Stop Drug Dealing campaign which will continue until the end of the year. I take the point that to get the message of awareness campaigns across, we need to explore new media, including digital and electronic, which are the stock in trade of young people. The launch of the HSE campaign is imminent. It will prove timely and effective.

Debate on the Bill will continue in the House tomorrow when Committee and Remaining Stages will be taken. The Minister for Justice and Law Reform, Deputy Dermot Ahern, will, as he stated, table an amendment to the Schedule to the Bail Act 1997. He will also table a number of minor technical drafting amendments.

I welcome the legislation which I believe forms an important part of the comprehensive effort to control the sale, distribution, importation and export of psychoactive substances. I thank Senators for their contributions in what has been a constructive debate on Second Stage.

Question put and agreed to.

When is it proposed to take Committee Stage?

Is that agreed? Agreed.

Committee Stage ordered for Thursday, 24 June 2010.
Sitting suspended at 1.45 p.m. and resumed at 3.30 p.m.