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Dublin: 5 °C Thursday 27 February, 2020

Carrying drugs for personal use is illegal. But politicians are looking at changing that

The Portuguese approach could be considered here.

In Portugal, carrying drugs for personal use does not lead to a criminal record.
In Portugal, carrying drugs for personal use does not lead to a criminal record.

DECRIMINALISING THE POSSESSION of drugs for personal use is to be considered by the Oireachtas.

A delegation from the Oireachtas Justice Committee visited Portugal last month where the approach as been in operation for 15 years.

The public’s views are now being sought about whether a similar approach should be considered here.

In 2001, Portugal introduced a system whereby drugs were not legalised but possession of a small quantity did not result in a criminal record.

Instead, possession of illegal drugs is treated in a similar way to a traffic offence and anyone in possession must attend a treatment programme within three days.

Funding for this service is split, with 60% provided by the State and 40% by the National Lottery.

A report published by the Justice Committee outlined that, while it might be suggested that such programmes could add to the cost of healthcare, the experience in Portugal has “actually resulted in a reduction in costs to the State”.

The five man Irish delegation met with with Portuguese addiction experts and those involved with monitoring the programme.

They were told that decriminalisation had not lead to an increase in drug consumption with the number of crimes directly related to drug addiction decreasing.

“As well as taking an alternative approach to drug possession in small quantities, we heard that the Portuguese system places particular emphasis on after care and social re-integration of former users of illegal substances,” committee chairman David Stanton TD said yesterday.

Under the Portuguese system, possession of drugs for personal use is decriminalised only for quantities that would be considered use for 10 days. Possession of more than this stated amount is still considered a crime.

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The report presented to the Justice Committee outlined that the rationale for the decriminalisation is to allow the individual an “opportunity of a second chance at turning their life around”.

A criminal record can prevent an individual’s ability to secure employment and decriminalising possession seeks to prevent this. Tax breaks are also offered to Portuguese employers who employ recovering addicts with the State paying the employee an amount equal to the minimum wage.

Minister of State for Drugs Strategy Aodhán Ó Riordáin TD will meet with the Oireachats Health Committee next week and this approach is expected to be part of discussions.

The public is also being asked to put forward its opinions with submissions being accepted from groups or individuals in favour or against altering Ireland’s current laws.

“With the report now published, the committee is keen to hear from interested organisations and individuals in Ireland on whether a similar approach to the classification of small quantities of drugs should be considered here,” Stanton said launching the public consultation process.

Details of how to send a submission are available here.

Read: Prisoner spent two hours on roof of Cloverhill today after retrieving drugs >

Read: HSE investigating rise in HIV amongst injecting drug users in Dublin >

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Rónán Duffy

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