The report from the Oireachtas Justice Committee follows a consultation by the committee on the present application of sanctions for the possession of drugs for personal use. The report released today, titled “An Examination of the present Approach to Sanctions for Personal Possession of Certain Amounts of Drugs for Personal use” recommends decriminalising drug possession for personal use as an alternative to the current system of criminalisation. It is recommended that Ireland should look at other jurisdictions such as Portugal, Malta and Switzerland “to see which if the policies applied in these jurisdictions could be implemented in an Irish context”. Surprisingly, the committee has also recommended steps are taken to introduce a regulatory model for certain drugs. This is the first-time regulation has been put forward as a solution by government agencies.
Among other recommendations such as supervised injection facilities, and further investment in services, the report also recommends the Government conduct further research into not-for-profit cultivations such as social clubs which would allow the growth of personal supply of cannabis or other drugs outside the black market in order to regulate the activity. In terms of medicinal cannabis, the Committee also recommends the expansion of the MCAP programme, to ensure that more people affected by chronic illness can access cannabis in circumstances where other treatments have failed.
The Committee was told of ‘community collectives’ or ‘social clubs’ where a local community or group grows cannabis for those within their community who request it. Such collectives occur in Malta, Spain, California and in some jurisdictions, including Switzerland, growing of drugs for personal use is permitted. The Committee was informed that there are other substances such as mushrooms or opiates which can be grown naturally. Presentations and submissions testified that, if permitted, individuals or groups could grow their own drugs, providing an alternative route through which substances can be supplied rather than sourcing them from the black market. They also spoke of the potential for drugs, when grown in their natural form and not concentrated or injected with further chemicals, to be less harmful than more processed versions of the substance that are available. It was suggested at the Committee that if regulation of drugs were to occur, then growing drugs for one’s personal use could provide a short-term alternative to the black market, as it may take some time to provide drugs through a different regulated avenue, as the black market has been relied upon so heavily to provide the supply of drugs up until now.
Ineffective use of time and resources
Submissions highlighted the use of time and resources that is spent on processing cases of possession for personal use through the criminal justice system and it was argued that this money and the time used by Gardaí to detect these drugs could be used more effectively in other areas. For example, when the UK reclassified cannabis in 2004 to a class C drug, this resulted in a 33% drop in cannabis cases and saved over 199,000 police hours.
Most submissions were critical of the current system and encouraged proper regulation. It was argued that if cannabis was regulated, this would
Allow users to know the ratio of THC (which is the psychoactive constituent) and CBD (which is the medical constituent which counteracts many negative effects).
Eliminate adulterants which are often included in illegal drugs and can cause serious harm or prove fatal
Could also eliminate synthetic cannabis (or ‘Spice’) which is particularly detrimental to an individual’s mental health.
Proper regulation could improve the research into cannabis’ positive and negative impacts.
It was pointed out the criminalisation of drugs has resulted in the drugs market being completely unregulated, which is particularly problematic in terms of cannabis supply, as the HSE has pointed out that there has been an increase in counterfeit cannabis products which contain harmful chemicals that can cause serious health complications or prove fatal. The EU’s drug monitoring agency also examined the increase in contaminated black-market cannabis supplies and noted Ireland in this regard. The lack of regulatory checks on the cannabis supply in Ireland allows these harmful contaminants to circulate within the cannabis supply without any forewarning or accountability by those responsible.
In July, several witnesses spoke before the Justice Committee to address the current policy on penalties for having particular amounts of medicines on hand for personal use. They included medical professionals and those who had previously owned drugs for personal use. Additionally, the Committee invited written submissions from individuals and groups that were taken into account for this report.
This is not the first-time decriminalisation and reform have been recommended. In 2019 a Working Group Report was released titled “ Alternative Approaches to the Possession of Drugs for Personal Use”, the group heard from stakeholders and received over 20,000 submissions from ordinary members of the public and agencies working in the field. Following lengthy deliberations and extensions, the working group recommended overwhelmingly in favour of reform. The report recommended that imprisonment should no longer be an outcome for the possession of drugs for personal use. The group further recommended that all convictions for drug possession for personal use should be spent (removed) from a person’s record after a certain period of time.
This was stopped short when a minority report was released by the Chair of the working group ex-Judge Garret Sheehan. He disagreed with the recommendations of the group and stated that decriminalisation is not in the best interests of the country. He further called on the Government to “immediately set about the daunting task of restoring the rule of law to every community”, highlighting his attitude towards drug policy reform.
Since the 2019 report advocates and activists have been calling for reform of our approach to cannabis in Ireland. With the release of today’s report, it is evident these calls have been heard.