An initiative designed to stem the tide of legal highs being sold in Larne was inspired by an operation carried out by Belfast City Council, it has emerged.
The joint scheme between Larne Council and the PSNI – which saw a number of legal highs removed from Northern Lights hydroponics shop in the town centre last Thursday – came after Belfast Council was granted permission by a court to destroy seized substances that it believed to be legal highs.
Using this as a precedent, Larne Borough Council has sought to establish a co-ordinated approach to the problem locally.
Chairman of the Larne Policing and Community Safety Partnership (PCSP), Mark McKinty welcomed the removal of the substances from circulation in Larne, but also warned of the “long battle ahead”.
Mr McKinty said: “It is extremely good news that more than 300 sachets of legal high substances have been removed from sale in a shop on Dunluce Street in Larne.
“I was alerted to the presence of a criminal gang travelling to Larne from Belfast in order to purchase the substances no longer available in Belfast.
“What was even more concerning was the fact they were also shoplifting in Larne to fund both their travel and their purchase.
“I praise the work of the PSNI and the Council officers who were able to remove sachets from circulation. Similar raids are continuing to take place around the country.”
However, the PCSP chairman also spoke of the need to find a long-term solution to the issue of legal highs.
He added: “My concerns are twofold: firstly, whilst these products are technically legal substances, and until prosecutions are brought forward under the Consumer Protection Act 1987, raided shops can be restocked in a matter of hours.
“Secondly, there is a very high risk that this market will be forced underground, making the gathering of evidence and the protection of our community more difficult.”
“This is an issue which is affecting the health and wellbeing of many in our community, particularly young people, and I fear where it may lead if not dealt with immediately.
“I would call on the Stormont Executive to make its resolution a priority.”