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Ministers considering alternative approaches to dealing with drug possession for personal use

A working group was set up last year to consider issues such as the possession of drugs for personal use, and to review other jurisdictions’ drug laws.

Image: Shutterstock/guruXOX

MINISTERS ARE TO go to Cabinet in the coming weeks with recommendations on alternative approaches to law on the possession of drugs for personal use in Ireland. 

A working group was set up last year to consider such issues such as the possession of drugs for personal use, and to review other jurisdictions’ drug laws. 

Minister of State for Health Promotion and the National Drugs Strategy, Catherine Byrne and Justice Minister Charlie Flanagan are due to report back to their ministerial colleagues on the issue shortly. 

Minister Byrne, Minister Harris and Minister Flanagan are currently considering the report of the working group set up to examine alternative approaches to the possession of drugs for personal use, and will revert to Cabinet over the coming weeks.

Earlier this month, Health Minister Simon Harris said there are no plans to legalise cannabis. 

“There are no plans to legalise cannabis or any other illicit drugs in this country,” he said. 

However, he indicated that criminalising drug use is not always the correct path. 

“You have to take a health-led approach,” said Harris, adding:

“When we come across someone in this country with an addiction, should we be giving them a helping hand or a handcuff?” 

He said it was “frankly wrong” and stigmatises addicts.

“Deciding that the only thing that we’re going to do for a drug addict is put them in touch with the criminal justice system will not break addiction,” he added.

He added that behind every addict is someone’s son, father, mother or sister, and “we have to face up to drug addiction.”

In addition to possible new rule changes, the Department of Health is to launch a new national awareness campaign on drug-related violence and intimidation.

With an additional €1 million, there will be an extra €10,000 annually for each local and regional Task Force from 2019.

Funding will also be allocated for the next three years to highlight the impact of drug-related violence and intimidation and to raise awareness of the supports available for those affected. It is expected to be rolled out later this year.

“Addiction knows no boundaries, it can reach into any family and any community, and destroy lives. Our National Drugs Strategy (2017) takes a new and more compassionate approach to addiction, treating it as an illness and supporting individuals through their journey of recovery. Our focus is now firmly on the person and giving them a second chance in life,” said Byrne. 

“For some communities, drug-related violence and intimidation is a living nightmare. I have met many families going through turmoil due to drug related crime or debt. An Garda Síochána and the National Family Support Network work together on the Drug Related Intimidation Programme, providing help and support for these families, but we want to do more in this area,” she added. 

Harris welcomed the initiatives, saying that it is wrong to only take a criminal justice approach to drug addiction.

“If we want to break the cycle of addiction, we must take a health-led approach. Deciding that the only thing we will do for a drug addict is put them in touch with the criminal justice system will not break addiction. That approach would be a failure in our duties in terms of a modern health service and a compassionate, tolerant society that wants to look after and care for people in difficult times.

“We must face up to drug addiction. That does not mean we should legalise drugs. Educating our children about the serious dangers of taking drugs is key. They are dangerous and can destroy one’s life but responding to a person who has become an addict with more than simply a blue siren is important.”

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