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Paul Reid, chairman of the Citizens’ Assembly on Drug Use, speaking at today's launch Sasko Lazarov/
assembly's final report

Ireland has 'once in a generation' chance to decriminalise personal drug use, Paul Reid says

A special Oireachtas committee will be established to examine the Citizens’ Assembly’s recommendations, Drugs Minister Hildegarde Naughton confirmed.


IRELAND SHOULD MOVE towards the decriminalisation of possession of drugs for personal use, the head of the Citizens’ Assembly on Drug Use has said.

Speaking at the launch of the assembly’s final report in Dublin city today, Paul Reid said changing Ireland’s approach to drug use represents a “once in a generation opportunity” to help people affected by addiction.

Reid told delegates that a health-led approach can break the “vicious cycle” of people from disadvantaged communities ending up in the criminal justice system when addiction support is what they actually need.

He said the group’s recommendations “are a strong call of action to the Government that the State needs to take a far more comprehensive and coherent approach to drug use in Ireland”.

“It asks those in Government to pivot from the status quo and ask larger and more ambitious questions about decriminalisation, diversion and dissuasion.

“It is urgent that drug policy be given greater priority as many people in this country cannot afford to wait any longer.”

Reid noted that while the Citizens’ Assembly was in session last year, “it is likely that several hundred people in Ireland died of drug-related causes”.

“The emergence of highly potent synthetic opioids towards the end of 2023 and the ongoing drugs-related criminality and violence are daily reminders of the wider threats and challenges that exist arising from drug use.”

Drugs Minister Hildegarde Naughton today thanked the assembly for its work on the issue and said the Government will consider its recommendations “carefully and with urgency”.

Naughton said she will bring a memo to Cabinet to establish a special Oireachtas committee which will examine the assembly’s recommendations “as quickly as possible”.


The assembly, comprised 99 citizens with Reid as the chairperson, met on six occasions from April to October 2023. The meetings included 130 speakers and panellists, 250 hours of deliberations, and consideration of 800 public submissions.

Three months ago the assembly voted that the State should take a comprehensive health-led policy response to dealing with people who are in possession of drugs for personal use, rather than voting for a legalisation and regulation approach.

Among its 36 recommendations is a proposal that people should be referred to health and addiction services where appropriate, rather than criminalised.

The group recommended that the possession of cannabis, mushrooms (psilocybin), cocaine and other drugs for personal use should be decriminalised.

The final report also details specific measures for implementation including:

  • The establishment of a dedicated Cabinet Committee on Drugs, chaired by the Taoiseach
  • Prioritisation of supports for marginalised groups and disadvantaged communities
  • Enhanced funding, including additional and new sources of funding
  • A greater focus on prevention and recovery and greater supports for families and children impacted by drug use
  • The expansion of harm reduction measures and treatment and recovery services, both in prison and in communities
  • Supply reduction, supporting the continued efforts of the gardaí, while strengthening the response to drug-related intimidation and violence by organised crime groups

Legalisation vs decriminalisation 

The vote in October related to the possession with cannabis was the tightest – 39 people at the assembly opted for a health-led approach on the final count, while 38 opted for legalisation and regulation of cannabis.

For all other drug categories, a comprehensive health-led approach took the lead by a greater margin.

Legalisation is the process whereby the importation, sale, purchase and use of drugs is regulated by the State in the same way as alcohol and tobacco.

Whereas a decriminalisation model would mean that drugs would remain illegal, but a person found in possession of drugs for personal use would not receive a criminal sanction.

Citizens Assembly on Drug Use-21_90697847 Drugs Minister Hildegarde Naughton today thanked the assembly for its work Sasko Lazarov / Sasko Lazarov / /

Speaking to The Journal at the launch, Senator Lynn Ruane said the special Oireachtas committee needs to be set up “as soon as possible”, noting that people’s lives depend on it.

While Ireland may look into legalisation and regulation of drug use further down the line, she said the focus is now on decriminalisation.

Ruane, who has a background in helping people with addiction issues, noted that not everyone who needs support is “ready to engage with services” and “we need to meet people where they’re at”.

“It can’t be that you get two or three chances to engage with services and [if you don't] that you’re then referred to the criminal justice system.”

Aodhán Ó Ríordáin, Labour’s justice spokesperson and a former drugs minister, also called for the Oireachtas committee “to be convened immediately to finally address Ireland’s failed drug policy”.

“For too long the political class have buried their heads in the sand when it comes to drugs, seeing those who experience problems with drugs and substance abuse as less worthy for care.

“There’s an opportunity here to finally protect vulnerable drug users and wake up to the reality of drug use in Ireland,” Ó Ríordáin said.

Tony Duffin, CEO of the Anna Liffey Drug Project, welcomed the publication of the report.

He told The Journal: “Drug policy is complex, the recommendations reflect this and must be considered as a whole, in their entirety.

However, I’m aware that the recommendation that supports a comprehensive health-led approach to the possession of drugs for personal use will grab people’s attention.

“I support this recommendation which builds on an action under Ireland’s National Drug Strategy.

“I hope that under the future policy people who are found in the possession of drugs for personal use will be decriminalised and diverted away from the criminal justice system each and every time – similar to as is done in Portugal where people are referred to Dissuasion Committees.”

Speaking at the launch, Naughton said: “I have long held the view that we as a society have needed to have an open and honest conversation about drugs.

“Ensuring that the voices of those with lived experience and the voices of young people are heard is key to putting in place the appropriate responses.”

Naughton said the misuse of illicit drugs “affects every part of Irish society whether urban or rural, affluent, or disadvantaged”.

“The misuse of drugs has devastating consequences for not only the individual grappling with addiction, but also for their families and the communities in which they live,” she added.

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