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In-Depth Coverage Of The Irish And European Markets

Joint Committee on Justice examines alternatives to criminal sanctions

Updated: Jul 17, 2022

On Tuesday the 12th of July the Joint Committee on Justice met to discuss the topic of “An examination of the present approach to sanction for possession of certain amounts of drugs for personal use”. Among the members of the committee were some familiar faces in the Irish cannabis sphere. Mr Brendan Minsh from Crainn and Mr Martin Condon from Patients for Safe access were invited to make statements on the topic, alongside Dr Garret McGovern, addiction specialist, Dr Bobby Smyth representing Cannabis Risk Alliance and Dr Nuno Capaz from the Portuguese Dissuasion Committee. The committee kicked off by welcoming the representatives and listening to their opening statements.

Dr McGovern and Dr Capaz both highlighted the impact criminalisation can have on a person. Criminal records, especially ones associated with illegal drugs can create a barrier to accessing visas, travel, and employment, but also have a huge impact on the person in terms of stigma, from their family, and society at large. Dr Capaz informed the committee that Portugal’s success was not down to decriminalisation alone, but also due to eliminating the stigma associated with drugs, implementing wrap-around social support, and reassessing their treatment model.

Crainn highlighted the need for a centralised drug policy that is focused on core pillars with harm reduction to be at the centre and moving away from the criminal justice system. Recommending a focus on hearing the voices of service users, and service providers in the future of drug policy.

Dr McGovern highlighted that in his 25 years working in addiction, he has encountered many people who are engaging with treatment due to an ongoing court case for personal possession or are sent to him by the courts with no evidence of addiction issues. He highlighted this, especially in the case of cannabis consumers who the vast majority consume without any issues and without developing problematic use.

We heard a heartfelt and emotional statement from Martin Condon from Patients for Safe Access. Martin, an epilepsy sufferer who uses cannabis to treat his condition spoke about having to rely on the black market as he does not qualify to be treated under the Medicinal Cannabis Access Programme. Due to this, he has had multiple convictions for personal possession of cannabis, one of which gave him “an all-expenses-paid stay at the 5-star Cork prison, at a time when prisoners still had to “relieve themselves” in a pot in the cell which would then have to be emptied by the prisoner the next morning when the cell door was opened.” He spoke about having to lie to his daughter about where he was, as prison is only a place “bad people go.” He also highlighted several other patients’ stories, some of which have had to emigrate to receive treatment and access to medical cannabis for their condition. The day after this Committee Martin was sentenced to 2 months in prison for possession of 1 gram of CBD, he is currently released pending appeal.

Finally, we heard from Dr Smyth from Cannabis Risk Alliance stated although they support a health-led approach, the criminal justice system does have a role to play within that, while also stating that imprisonment for personal possession is excessive. Further clarification may be needed on these statements and further discussions to follow as the two opinions are at odds with each other.

Some committee members seemed to struggle with separating the conversations in the room which shows the lack of understanding of basic drug policy principles, such as the definition of decriminalisation and legalisation and how the two systems drastically differ.

Although the conversation centred around cannabis, it is a conversation that applies to all illegal drugs. We hope there will be many more sessions discussing this topic, with the overall goal of leading to change and reform. A report of submissions will be made available after the summer recess.

You can watch the committee session here

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