A woman who opened a shop in Blackpool selling so-called legal highs has hit the national airwaves claiming councillors and police officers are among her clientele.
The woman, who wished to be identified only as Julie, opened Bulldog’s Bongs, on Station Road, last year and says it has attracted a wide range of customers.
She spoke out in defence of the industry after Blackpool Council last month banned five shops from selling psychoactive substances amid reports of 15 cases in which under-16s had been admitted to hospital after taking them.
The City of Lincoln Council was last night set to vote to become the first area to introduce an outright ban.
Julie, who says her son now runs the seasonal shop, said “at least 30” shops in Blackpool sold legal highs, including not just specialist shops but also some tanning salons, tattooists and newsagents.
She claims some sold the drugs ‘under the counter’.
“We have customers who work in hospital, councillors and even police officers – a wide variety of pillars of the community,” she said.
Her unsubstantiated claims were first broadcast on BBC’s Radio 5 Live and later repeated to The Gazette
“It’s human nature to want to escape the pressures of life,” Julie added.
“We’d probably get 30 customers in a typical week, evenly split between men and women. You’d be surprised how many pensioners are going down the street with a bong in their handbag.”
Julie, who refused to reveal the identities of any of the alleged buyers, said legal highs were easy to get hold of.
“In some places you can pick them up on your way to work if you want to,” she said.
“You won’t see them in some of the shops but if you ask they will be under the counter.”
Julie claims it was safer for the substances, which include chemicals, powders and smoking incense like speed substitute China White and cocaine substitute Go Gaine, to be sold legally.
“This way they are traceable and you have the ingredients on the back of the pack,” she said. “So if you have to go to hospital you can say ‘I’ve taken this’. They can then see what’s in your system and say ‘maybe you should think about not taking this’. It is also then accountable to the shop and the supplier.
“I’m not saying drugs are safe but if people want to take drugs they are going to do it - so let’s make taking drugs as safe as possible.
“If someone decides to take a drug and the shops are not there they may then start seeking out back-street shops where things are home-made and it is less clear what is in what they are buying.”
She said a ban would also drive sales online, meaning people could not be sure if they were selling to children.
Julie said she had not taken legal highs herself and would not want any of her five children to take them. But she denied they were addictive and said shops could not be responsible for people’s ‘stupidity’ if they mixed the drugs.
She added the most important thing was for shops to be responsible and sell only to adults, and added that while Bulldog’s Bongs operated a ‘Challenge 25’ policy she would like to see regulation to prevent sales to children.
Coun Gillian Campbell, Blackpool Council’s cabinet member for public safety and enforcement, said: “We’re extremely surprised to hear anyone even attempt to publicly justify the misery that legal highs are causing and imply that could, in any way, be positive for society.
“In Blackpool alone we’ve seen 15 under 16s admitted to hospital in the last year having taken them – one is too many.
“As drug and homeless shelter workers and users themselves have testified, they have led to people suffering severe depression and expressing severe suicidal thoughts, as well as seizures, fits, foaming at the mouth and even causing a man’s heart to stop.
“Had he not been in an ambulance and on his way to hospital, that may have caused him to die.
“Drug workers tell us the vast majority of people taking them are vulnerable individuals, many of whom have pre-existing addictions. Those people need compassion, support and help and not to be seen as a revenue stream.
“As I’ve said previously, we believe people selling these substances are no better than common drug dealers and we urge businesses to cease now.
“Any business that do continue to sell them who are not already subject to enforcement action can expect a visit.”