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Should drugs be decriminalised for personal use? Voters are split on the issue

A new poll found that a large proportion of voters would back the idea – but not everyone is convinced.

Image: PA Archive/PA Images

A LARGE PROPORTION of voters would back the decriminalisation of drugs for personal use. However, over a third are against the idea – and there are still a significant number of ‘don’t knows’, at 16%.

The President of the Irish Pharmacy Union last weekend added his voice to calls for possession of small amounts of illegal drugs to be treated as a health problem rather than a criminal issue.

Daragh Connolly told his organisation’s national conference that addressing the drug problem in Ireland “is a balancing act between preventing illicit use of drugs and associated health problems and ensuring access to treatment for those addicted to drugs”.

“The World Health Organisation has acknowledged that people with drug disorders deserve the same level of care as patients with any other health condition,” he said.

A poll carried out by Amárach Research for TheJournal.ie and Claire Byrne Live asked: ‘Should possession of drugs for personal use be decriminalised?’

Here are the results:

  • Yes 46%
  • No 38%
  • Don’t know 16% 

Catherine Byrne, the drugs minister, said last month that she believed in “a health-led and person-centred approach to the drug problem”.

The latest national drugs strategy is currently being drafted, and will be presented to the minister soon.

The idea of decriminalising drugs – once considered taboo – has been gaining support in recent years.

Aodhán Ó Ríordáin, Byrne’s predecessor as drugs minister, wrote in an op-ed for this website last month that when a Labour Party colleague proposed a motion to legalise cannabis fifteen years ago “he was almost lynched” and said the progress showed “where the drug debate has moved to in Ireland and indeed internationally”.

“It is essential to stress that  decriminalisation does not mean legalisation,” Ó Ríordáin wrote.

“It doesn’t mean that drugs that are currently illegal would become legal.

It means that those who use them wouldn’t automatically be given a criminal charge. We would decriminalise the person, not the drugs.

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Back in 2015 an Oireachtas committee set up to look at possible changes to drug laws strongly recommended that the possession of small amounts should be decriminalised.

The committee argued that there were a number of benefits to decriminalisation including easing the burden on gardaí and the courts system. The targeting of drug dealers would continue and in fact should be escalated, the cross-party panel said.

Latest figures from the Health Research Board released this week showed that a total of 61,439 cases were treated for problem drug use in Ireland between 2009 and 2015.

“Looking at the types of drugs first – opiates remained the main problem drug for treated cases over the period, however they decreased as a proportion of all cases treated,” Dr Suzi Lyons, Senior Researcher at the HRB, said.

In 2009, more than 6 out of 10 cases reported opiates as their main problem, while in 2015 less than five in 10 cases reported opiates.  But we can see from the figures that other drugs have increased,  mainly cannabis and benzodiazepines.

The proportion of cases where the person was homeless increased from 5.6% in 2009, to 9.2% in 2015.

The poll question was asked on Monday of this week. The Amárach Research panel has 1,000 members, all aged over 18.

Read: The needles on the cobbles are nothing new – but the human excrement is shocking >

Read: How would a Dublin drug injecting room operate? We spoke to the boss of the Sydney centre >

About the author:

Daragh Brophy

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