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Dublin: 4 °C Friday 25 April, 2014

Cannabis legalisation: Where do the parties stand?

Independent TD Luke ‘Ming’ Flanagan is due to launch a bill in the coming days proposing the legalisation of the drug.

Image: rolling joint image via Shutterstock

Updated: 22:00

INDEPENDENT POLITICIAN LUKE ‘Ming’ Flanagan is currently dotting the i’s and crossing the t’s on a bill that will propose the legalisation of cannabis in Ireland.

Flanagan’s bill, which is due to be launched in the coming days, is expected to include provisions for people to both purchase the drug and grow cannabis plants themselves.

Opponents to the legalisation have warned that it could result in more people using the drug, saying it can also be a gateway substance and may increase the use of other more harmful drugs.

However others in favour of it have said that regulating could lower the risks of people using contaminated drugs, reduce crime and yield a high tax revenue.

So where do the various political parties, technical groups  and independent TDs stand on the issue? We decided to ask them.

FINE GAEL

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(Image: Mark Stedman/Photocall Ireland)

As Fine Gael health spokesperson, Minister for Health James Reilly was nominated by his party to answer for them. His department pointed out that, under the Misuse of Drugs Act, 1977, the manufacture, production, preparation, sale, supply, distribution and possession of cannabis or cannabis-based medicinal products are unlawful except for the purposes of research. Cannabis is also controlled internationally under United Nations Conventions.

It is not the intention of Government to legalise the use of cannabis either for medical or recreational reasons, owing to a number of concerns, including its potential for abuse and concern for public health. Cannabis misuse is detrimental to health and significant physical and mental health risks are particularly associated with long-term use. Legalising cannabis may lead to increased levels of experimentation with drugs by young people.

The legalisation of cannabis in Ireland cannot be considered in isolation of the other EU Member States as this could result in Ireland becoming a destination for “drug tourism” with consequential social problems.

It is internationally recognised that leniency in cannabis control can endanger the overall international effort against drugs. The Government’s position regarding controls on cannabis is in line with United Nations Conventions and international law on the control of cannabis.

A cannabis-based drug called Sativex has recently been identified as being suitable for the relief of symptoms of spasticity for people with Multiple Sclerosis (MS). Sativex is currently aurhorised in the UK for MS patients and the Irish Medicines Board has recommended the approval of the product for the Irish market.

However the department said that the granting of market authorisation in Ireland is dependent on changes to legislation.

Department officials have been engaging with experts on how best to legally describe authorised cannabis-based medicinal products while maintaining existing controls on cannabis and cannabis substances.

Draft Regulations amending the Misuse of Drugs Regulations have been prepared, including amendments necessary to enable cannabis-based medicinal product Sativex to be prescribed in Ireland. Arising from the consultation process, the draft orders and Misuse of Drugs (Amendment) Regulations will be submitted to government seeking the government’s approval to notify them to the EU Commission and Member States under the Technical Standards Directive.

At the end of the three month EU notification period, government’s approval will be sought to make the relevant order. The department said it is anticipated that the new regulations will be introduced early next year.

LABOUR

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(Image: Sam Boal/Photocall Ireland)

A spokesperson for Labour said the party was not in favour of full legalisation but declined to give a reason. However they mirrored the department’s comments on a change in legislation to allow for the availability of Sativex.

I understand from Minister of State at the Department of Health, Minister Alex White, that the Department of Health has been informed by the Irish Medicines Board that it is currently in receipt of a market authorisation request in relation to a medicinal product containing cannabis extract which is used for the treatment of people with multiple sclerosis. The department is currently engaging with experts to identify how best to proceed in terms of cannabis-based medicinal products and I understand that legislative proposals will be brought forward  in coming months.

FIANNA FÁIL

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(Image: Julien Behal/PA)

A spokesperson for the party said:

The party position is that we support legalisation for medical purposes but not in any other circumstances.  We don’t believe there is a strong enough body of evidence to warrant further legislation. We are not convinced that legalising cannabis would not cause further difficulty as there is still very strong evidence that it is a gateway drug and leads to people becoming addicted to stronger drugs.

SINN FÉIN

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(Image: Niall Carson/PA)

Sinn Féin also opposes the legalisation of cannabis, according to a party spokesperson.

With reference to cannabis for medicinal use, this is a matter which would require a full Health Technology Assessment for clinical effectiveness by the relevant expert agencies. We await the findings of such an assessment before commenting further.

THE SOCIALIST PARTY

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(Image: Sasko Lazarov/Photocall Ireland)

A party spokesperson told TheJournal.ie:

The Socialist Party supports legalisation of cannabis but it should be made available through a State monopoly with accompanying safeguards for harm minimisation and education about the effects of use. We are opposed to the criminalisation of young people and we believe that it is a waste of garda resources.

JOAN COLLINS (People Before Profit)

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(Image: Sam Boal/Photocall Ireland)

While Collins said this was not something she had discussed with her colleagues, either in People Before Profit or the ULA Dáil technical group, her own position is that she is in favour of decriminalisation.

I think it’s madness that people with a small amount of cannabis, for their own use, can get hauled in and harrassed by gardaí that have bigger things to do. Decriminalisation takes it out of that bracket and focuses the resources in the people who are really in charge – the guards know who they are so they should put their resources into that.

I’m not 100 per cent on it [full legalisation], I’d want to talk to people in the community to get their response because they’re the ones dealing with drug use. My opinion would be directed by them really and what their view would be about how it would impact on the community.

As for legalising it for medical purposes:

I think there’s a very strong argument for that, I’ve seen material in relation to Alzheimers and MS and I think that should be brought through the medical procedures, with pharmacists involved in it. All of the evidence seems to be that it does assist people so I’d certainly be very open to that. I think like everything there should be studies done and if it’s proven that it can help then why not? It makes sense to me anyway, for it to be available in a controlled environment, obviously on the basis of a patient-doctor relationship. I think there’s no harm in debating these things, getting opinions from people ans services that deal with it every day of the week. It can help to revisit it because what was suitable five years ago might not be now.

LUCINDA CREIGHTON (The Reform Alliance)

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(Image: Laura Hutton)

TheJournal.ie spoke to former Fine Gael TD Luncina Creighton, who said it was not an issue the newly formed technical group had discussed. Her own personal opinion is as follows:

I’d be skeptical, I think I haven’t seen any compelling evidence to support the idea of legalisation. There is some evidence to suggest it can lead to worse addictions to other circumstances. When you think about how much we are spending waging the war on tobacco, if we legalise something else that can be addictive, it’s a big business and if people growing cannabis have the intention of growing the market and generating more addiction then I’m not really sure that adds up either.

We’ll see, maybe Ming has some revelation he’s share with us and that will change things.

I think obviously where people have serious health issues and conditions, whether they’re life threatening or completely debilitating, if there is some genuine medicinal value then it’s worth considering. That really depends on expert advice, people who can guide us in that area. All legislators can do is base advice on best practice, I certainly wouldn’t rule it out but I don’t have enough medical expertise myself.

A number of other independent TDs were asked to contribute their opinions but we received no reply from them by the time of publication.

First published 07:00.

Read: Luke Ming Flanagan: I’m still smoking cannabis… but not in Ireland>

Poll: Should we legalise cannabis?>

Column: If we care about our society, we should legalise cannabis>

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