The public's most readily available source of information regarding drugs is the media and news reports. However, it is frequently criticised for encouraging skewed or erroneous impressions of drugs and for contributing to "panics" about the prevalence of drug use and the potential effects that may not reflect reality. Despite evidence from across the globe from both legal and non-legal countries, Cannabis is no different and is often subject to incorrect and inaccurate information. The media themselves are not responsible for overinflated valuations, the figures often come from official press releases.
With multiple millions of cannabis seized every year in Ireland, the valuation placed on cannabis seizures is often a source of debate. The monetary amount placed on illegal cannabis seizures is a common feature of media reports, but it can have far-reaching consequences. Our judicial system imposes different sentencing guidelines in respect of the amount of cannabis seized, for example, a seizure valued at more than €13,000 will attract a presumptive minimum sentence of 10 years upon conviction. From the perspective of the court, the value/amount of drugs is representative of the potential harm to society.
In Ireland Cannabis plants are valued at €800 per plant, irrespective of the quality, stage, or development of the plant, with valuations often used as the tagline.
Below is an image circulated in 2020, where over 250 plants were seized valued at €206,000
In April 2022 the cannabis seizure below was estimated to be valued at €200,000
Valuations of plants can be problematic, there have been instances where twigs and other non-consumable parts of the plant are weighed and taken into account in the overall figure. This results in skewed detection figures being published. Some of the high numbers can be used by An Garda Sochána in an effort to cement its legitimacy in the eyes of the people. If it's a sizable haul, Gardai look to be considerably disrupting criminality, claiming that they have taken money away from organised crime.
The economic reality is that wholesale costs are far less expensive than retail prices, this applies to every market, cannabis included. A wholesale consignment of cannabis will sell for far less than the retail value of a single gramme. Additionally, the yield a cannabis plant may produce is dependent on its conditions and can be unpredictable at the best of times. Studies have shown the typical yield per hydroponically indoor-grown plant can be anywhere between 20-35 grammes. The valuation placed on plants is based on hopeful optimism by An Garda Sochána that all plants will survive the growing and flowering process.
The newest issue that is becoming ever more prevalent in Ireland is the valuation of cannabis edibles, more specifically cannabis-infused jellies. As these products are mostly synthetic cannabis and can be more difficult to quantify in monetary terms, especially in an illegal market. A recent court case highlighted the issues with cannabis valuations. In January 2023 a man who was found in possession of 3,000 cannabis-infused jellies disputed the value attributed to the product in Court. Gardaí valued the seizure at €33,000, the equivalent of €10 per jelly. His defence counsel submitted an independent drug valuation report to the court which estimated the approximately 3,000 jellies seized were only worth about €1 each. Judge Martin Nolan ruled that gardaí may have inflated the value of the drugs, while the independent evaluator probably deflated it and that the total amount was “probably something in between” the asserted figures of €33,000 and €3,000. Unfortunately, the court did not need to decide the correct valuation in order to proceed with the case, leaving the issue undecided.
Incorrect drug valuations were also the subject of a High Court proceeding in late 2022. Gardai are valued at 1kg of Mitragynine and more commonly known as Kratom at €20,000. The defendant, in this case, argued that the same quantity of the substance can be bought in countries where it is legal for between €180 to €300. Unfortunately, again the Court did not need to decide on the valuation aspect of this case and instead it will be left to the Jury to decide when the case comes to trial.
I cannot see this as a pressing issue to address in the wider scheme of things. There is hope for reform in the very near future with the Citizens Assembly due to be held in the coming months, allowing an open and honest conversation on our drug policy. When cannabis is legal and regulated in Ireland we will be able to see for ourselves the extent of the overvaluation that has been prevalent in the Irish justice system.