Irish sellers of "legal highs" face life in jail

DUBLIN Tue May 11, 2010 2:31pm EDT

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DUBLIN (Reuters) - Ireland's government approved tough new legislation Tuesday to crack down on "legal highs" available at so-called 'head shops' by threatening operators of the popular stores with life imprisonment. Under the new legislation, the sale or supply of substances that do not specifically fall under existing drugs legislation, but which have "psychoactive effects" will land users with up to 7 years in prison and suppliers with a maximum life sentence.

Head shops, which sell a variety of drugs paraphernalia, have thrived in recession-hit Ireland by selling substances often dubbed "legal" or "herbal" highs.

With some other countries are mulling legalizing certain drugs, critics of the new Irish legislation said it could drive users to try and get "legal high" drugs via the Internet or on the black market.

"That is a matter for the police," Prime Minister Brian Cowen told reporters after announcing the new measures.

Such drugs are common in Amsterdam's 'smart shops', as are marijuana and hash in the Dutch city's 'coffee shops' while other countries in Europe have sought to ban "legal highs."

Others are questioning how the group of substances with "psychoactive effects" would be defined.

"The righteous fuming over these products is never applied in the same way to the products sold in the local pub which are just as lethal and dangerous when misused and abused," Irish Times journalist Jim Carroll said on the newspaper's blog, referring to the consumption of alcohol in bars.

(Reporting by Andras Gergely and Padraic Halpin)

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