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‘I believe in the philosophy of freedom’

Last update - Thursday, February 19, 2009, 02:31 By Viktor Posudnevsky

His name is Yan, and his business is in mind-altering substances. Viktor Posudnevsky meets the Russian owner of one of Dublin’s more unorthodox businesses

Yan is from Russia and his business in Dublin is an unusual one. Most eastern Europeans open food stores, hair salons or movie rentals. But you won’t find food – or get a short back and sides – in Yan’s shop. Instead you will see lots of cannabis leaves, hash pipes, party pills, packets of white powder and black granules packed in tubes for convenient smoking. But he is not a drug dealer – everything is legal here. Welcome to Euphoria, Yan’s Russian head shop.
An Irishman wanders in and after a casual glance at the merchandise enquires if Yan has some “real grass”. “No” is the answer, but would the customer like to try ZoHai, a legal smoking blend that is said to have an effect similar to that of marijuana? “I’ll have a smoke and be back, alright?” the man says, pocketing his legal joint.
A French couple – seemingly tourists – walk in next. They stare at the goods and giggle. “The atmosphere in my shop is always like this, positive,” says Yan. “Here you won’t find a bored, sour-faced cashier.”
Yan opened his shop last month. He co-owns it with the man who runs the Nirvana chain of Dublin head shops. These stores operate on the boundary between the legal and the illegal. They sell paraphernalia for drug users, like pipes decorated with cannabis leaves, bongs and silver ‘snorting tubes’. They also sell ‘legal highs’, substances that can induce effects similar to those of illicit drugs – marijuana, ecstasy, cocaine and others. But often, it is just a matter of time before these legal narcotics get outlawed as well.
Sales of  ‘magic mushrooms’ have racked in millions for the head shop industry in Britain and Ireland, but the ‘shrooms’ were banned several years ago after a number of incidents. Another bestseller was ‘party pills’ containing benzylpiperazine (BZP), which have an effect similar to that of ecstasy tablets. BZP has already been made illegal in a number of European countries due to health concerns, and the ban in Ireland is taking effect in March. Until then, BZP-containing pills are freely available in Dublin’s head shops, including Yan’s Euphoria.
Yan’s own introduction to mind-altering substances was in the bleak 1990s in Russia. “It was a tough time,” he remembers. “A time that left no choice. Many people were lured by drugs. I lost many of my friends to this, some very good people.”
He dabbled in illicit substances himself, but never got seriously addicted: “God spared me,” he says. Yan got a chance to emigrate to Ireland six years ago and describes himself as a Gastarbeiter – a guest worker labouring in low-skilled jobs and saving money for a better future.
His break came when he met Paddy Grant, one of the owners of the Nirvana head shop chain. The two became friendly, and Yan’s wife got a job in one of Grant’s stores. “I saw how this business works,” explains Yan. “And me and Paddy both thought a head shop catering for eastern Europeans in Ireland can be successful.”
But making money is not the only thing motivating Yan in this unorthodox business. “It’s better for people to buy this stuff here,” he claims. “If you buy in the streets you don’t know from whom you’re buying and what you’re buying. [Illegal traders] cut drugs with all sorts of stuff. They can dupe you and poison you.”
He says he never sells to under-18s and always mentors inexperienced users who want to try the more potent ‘legal highs’.
“I believe in the philosophy of freedom,” Yan says. “Everyone is free to do what they want as long as it does not harm others. That includes drugs. But with drugs, as with everything else, you need some moderation and some sense.”

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