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A conviction for €4 worth of cannabis 'just defies logic', say campaigners

Possession of any amount of cannabis is illegal under Irish law.

Image: Shutterstock/Martin Gaal

CAMPAIGNERS HAVE CALLED for laws around the possession of small amounts of drugs to be reformed amid concerns that legislation is not tackling problem drug use. 

Advocacy groups working in the areas of drug addiction and legal reform say that the current approach does not act as a deterrent to drug users and creates barriers for the most vulnerable in Irish society.

It follows a report in the Irish Examiner last weekend about a former heroin addict who appeared before the courts charged with possession of €4 worth of cannabis.

The possession of any amount of cannabis is illegal under Irish law, although an individual found guilty of possession for personal use can escape a criminal conviction if it is their first time before the courts.

But Anna Quigley of Citywide Drugs Crisis Campaign is among those who have questioned whether this approach makes sense.

“If it’s not a criminal offence the first time but it is criminal offence the third time, is there any logic in that?” she tells The Journal.

“If you have got an addiction problem, you’ll be using pretty regularly and the chances of you being caught more than once or twice are quite significant.

“Clearly the people who would benefit most from the current rule are those who are caught once and will never come to the attention of gardaí again, which is good.

“But the vast majority of people who have serious addiction problems are going to be found in possession of drugs, not just three times in their life, but possibly three times in a day.”

Quigley says there is no evidence that criminalising individuals for possession of small amounts of drugs prevents them from using, with socio-economic factors and mental health issues more likely to play a part.

“A lot of the people who our services have mental health issues along with their addiction,” she says.

“Many are using drugs to self-medicate, and the drugs can make their problem worse. So The idea that the right response is to criminalise people like that just defies logic.”

The Irish Penal Reform Trust, which advocates for a progressive reform of penal policy, has also raised concerns about whether a criminal justice approach is the correct way to deal with problem drug users. 

The group’s executive director Fíona Ní Chinnéide believes that a public health approach would be a more efficient use of resources.

“In all responses to offending, what you want to do is to reduce the offending,” she tells The Journal.

“Of course, where harm is caused to another individual, that there needs to be accountability. But the ultimate goal has to be a reduction in re-offending.

“For every person who doesn’t offend again, there’s one fewer victim in the community. But you could still maintain the criminal justice approach to larger players within the industry.”

Ní Chinnéide explains how poverty, addiction, and even immaturity are among the reasons why people get criminal convictions for drug possession.

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She also highlights how those who break free of addiction or poverty continue to be disadvantaged if they are convicted.

“That conviction could become a barrier to education, work, international travel, accommodation or even in getting insurance throughout their adult lives.

“It’s effectively lifelong punishment for a period of your life which could have been decades in the past, from which you’ve moved on.”

The IPRT instead advocates that there should be no limit on the number of minor convictions that become can become spent, after a certain rehabilitation period has passed.

“All the evidence is that the resources are better put into public health, which addresses the nature and cause of addiction,” Ní Chinnéide adds.

“Early interventions like diversion or mentoring are likely to interrupt the pattern of addiction and to make better use of resources.”

Comments are closed as this story references a case that is still before the courts.

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