Legal highs store Shiva Bay to open in Herne Bay despite calls for such shops to be shut
A new legal highs store is set to open this week in Herne Bay - despite Kent having one of the highest concentrations of so-called head shops in the country.
Recent research by charity the Angelus Foundation revealed the county had around 13 stores selling legal highs - more than any other area in the UK outside London.
Now smoking accessory shop Shiva Bay is due to open in Mortimer Street this week, selling products labelled as plant food but often smoked for effect.
The availability of legal highs has been criticised by Herne Bay MP Sir Roger Gale, who says they can be potentially lethal.
But shop owner Harry Francis, 29, has defended his plans and says he will mainly be stocking items such as bongs, rizzlas and flavoured tobaccos.
He said: “When a new thing comes out everyone likes to criticise it. But if people were to get drunk and off their nut then people don’t really say anything.
Harry Francis with his new shop in Mortimer Street, Herne Bay
“It can’t be as bad as people say it is. It’s manipulated by the media.
“People have drunk bleach, but you won’t see people calling for bleach to be banned.
“Most of the chemicals can be found in pharmacies in products such as energy tablets.
“So to ban these products you would have to ban half the stuff you get in pharmacies.”
Mr Francis, a father of two and a former tree surgeon, says he has been selling similar products for seven years, and has only had one complaint in that time.
Julian Brazier is calling for the government to widen legislation in a bid to tackle the selling of legal highs
He added: “Everything we are going to do will be legal. The wholesalers are very restricting in what they can give us.
“We will be very strict. We don’t have posters or advertisements on the wall, and have legal disclaimers for customers.
“We are not going to serve kids or people not of a sound mind. The labels say not for human consumption.
“It’s not for me to advise people. They can choose what they want to do for themselves.”
Herne Bay MP Sir Roger Gale says the opening of the shop will be bad for Herne Bay.
But he admitted: “The problem is that while these products are highly undesirable and potentially harmful, as the law stands they are legal.
“We can’t level criticism at the owner of the shop. It’s the law that’s an ass, not the owner.
North Thanet MP Sir Roger Gale: "Children in need of foster care should only be placed out of area under exceptional circumstances."
“I wrote to Norman Baker about the sale of cannabis seeds, and was told that there are no current plans to bring it under control.
“Under the coalition there appears to be no great will to do anything about what I suppose are called soft drugs.
“It’s unlikely that anything can be done about it, but it shouldn’t stop us trying.
"Youth workers involved in this area and sensible parents are worried about it.
“These shops are selling human misery. They’re selling these substances which give people a brief onrush of wellbeing and bring in their wake all too often the most horrible consequences" - Julian Brazier
"We need to send the clear message that these kinds of drugs are potentially very dangerous and in some cases lethal.”
His concerns were echoed by Julian Brazier, MP for Canterbury and Whitstable.
He said: “These shops are selling human misery. They’re selling these substances which give people a brief onrush of wellbeing and bring in their wake all too often the most horrible consequences.
“There will inevitably be some younger people and indeed older ones who will go in there looking for a thrill and some of them will come out very sick and indeed will come out permanently sick.”
He added: “I think it will have a very negative impact.
"We’ve seen in Canterbury that people buying these drugs can become very ill. I strongly support tougher legal action to prevent these kinds of shops from operating.”
Mr Brazier’s fears come after he wrote to the Home Secretary last October, calling for a ban on legal highs.
The government has since launched a review into the substances, which could lead to sweeping changes to the UK’s drug laws.
In his most recent letter on the issue, Mr Brazier shared his concerns with crime prevention minister, Norman Baker MP – advising him to consider Ireland’s stance on the stores.
He said: “The Irish have managed to close nearly all of their head shops.
"I’ve suggested we look at the Irish approach which seems to be to simply make it a criminal offence if somebody becomes gravely ill as a result of a shop selling something they may have reasonably expected to be dangerous.”
The government review is due to be concluded before the summer.
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