HomeNewsThe Burning Head Shop Phenomenon

The Burning Head Shop Phenomenon

Head shops (“derangement/head/hemp shops“) of the Irish variety were in the main thinly disguised drug pushing fronts that existed legally in Ireland for a short period of time before going out in a blaze of inglory. Unlike their counterparts elsewhere, Irish head shops were uniquely combustible. By January 2010 head shops were opening all over Ireland at the phenomenal rate of one per week. They were springing up faster than magic mushrooms. Head shops very quickly achieved notoriety including lots of media attention on slow news days. One doctor describing on a ‘Prime Time’ TV programme in 2010 how patients of his suffered from hallucinations, anxiety and psychosis from what were then “legal highs” bought from head shops. The political chattering class in their customary manner made lots of loud noise of the hot air variety but did nothing in response. A judge renowned for his strict anti-drug stance discovered to his consternation that a premises he had rented to a business in Naas contained a head shop. He quickly evicted the operator. That was the first one to fall.

Head Shop Attacks

The head shops attracted more than their regular ‘high’ seeking customers or the chattering attention of noisy politicians. Either pyromaniacs or arsonists seemed to be very attracted to them for some reason best known to themselves, possibly their extraordinary flammability. As a result 2010 was a blazing year for head shops.

  • On February 12th 2010 a Dublin head shop exploded into a blazing fire that engulfing two other businesses including a sex shop a business that seemed to be attracted to them. Capel Street was evacuated and had to be closed for the day.
  • On February 16th 2010 a second head shop blazed up and burned down in Dublin.
  • On March 10th 2010, two pipe bombs were found outside two separate head shops in Athlone. Garda bomb disposal experts closed two busy streets in the town. The attacks were later traced to drug dealers disgruntled with what they perceived as unwelcome competition.
  • On March 11th 2010 another head shop blazed up and was burned down in Sligo. An adjoining sex shop also caught fire with the smell of burning rubber as dildos took off like rockets.
  • On April 16th 2010 in Dundalk, a head shop was set ablaze in a most unfriendly petrol bomb attack.
  • On March 28th 2010, a group called  ‘Republican Action Against Drugs’ (RAAD) claimed responsibility for planting an explosive device outside a head shop in Letterkenny. RAAD issued an unfriendly statement saying it was the “first and only warning” the head shop would receive. It closed down shortly afterwards without a spark.

The arson attacks on the very flammable head shops certainly didn’t come from anti-drug campaigners as that was not their style of operation. It did appear to come from drug dealers who were disgruntled with what was seen by them as competition muscling in on their territory and their business. Drug dealers do not like competition. It makes them flaming mad.

2010 legislation

The government finally emerged out of the smoke and took action which led to the final demise of all but the stubbornest 12 head shops without any further burnings. Most head shop products became illegal in Ireland on August 23rd 2010 when the new ‘Criminal Justice (Psychoactive Substances) Act 2010’ became law. This Act empowered the Gardaí to seek court orders to close any head shops suspected of selling drug-like products. That included most of them. The onus was on the head shop owners to prove otherwise. This legislation led to the head shops dramatic and rapid decline from 112 to just 12. In not so ‘high’ minded a manner they fizzled out like damp squibs.

2015 legislation

Prior to a Government order taking effect in 2011, head shops could legally sell methylethcathinone a recreational drug. Earlier Government orders pursuant to the Misuse of Drugs Act, had outlawed the head shops possession and selling of ecstasy and magic mushrooms. Stanislav Bederev, who was charged with methylethcathinone possession in 2012, challenged the constitutionality of such Government orders. On March 10th 2015, the Court of Appeal ruled in Bederev’s favour, on the basis that the orders amounted to ‘law-making’, a power reserved for the Oireachtas. This resulted in emergency legislation to reinstate the ban on drugs previously banned by Government orders, which included amphetamine, khat and ketamine, taking effect 12 March 12th 2015.

The result of the Stanislav Bederev Court of Appeal ruling implicated pending cases involving possession of those drugs as well as potentially leading to appeals of all previously convictions for possession of those drugs. Stan the man had created a dilemma. In June 2016, however the Supreme Court in a tidying up operation overturned the Stanislav Bederev Court of Appeal’s ruling, finding that the original Government orders were constitutional. This was on the basis that the Government was bound to outlaw only drugs of the same nature as those already listed in the Misuse of Drugs Act, and that the Oireachtas was given the right to annul the Government’s orders if the Oireachtas so chose. Whoever said that slamming the door after the horse had bolted was a waste of time? Legally it seems that anything is possible.

Hens Teeth

Head shops in Ireland as the result of all this are now as rare as hen’s teeth with very few remaining. Their latest and most lucrative lifeline is the sale of vapes and vape equipment as well as medicinal CBD which is perfectly legal. That doesn’t stop one or two of them selling illegal substances under the counter in a game of hide and seek with the Gardaí. They seem to be frequented by known drug users for some unknown reason who seem to be attracted to them like flies to cow dung. They are not arsonists or pyromaniacs. Is it nostalgia or is it something else that attracts them to the few remaining head shops which are definitely an endangered species? Irish head shops are now fading into the realms of legend and the company of fire breathing dragons.


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