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Lack of progress in forming government means delay closing 'gap' in drug law

Concerns are being raised about the lack of progress in tackling certain psychoactive substances.

MORE THAN A year after President Michael D Higgins signed emergency legislation into law following a bizarre few days when Ireland’s drug laws made headlines around the world, concerns are being raised once again about the lack of progress tackling certain psychoactive substances.

Halting talks on forming a government may be continuing – but the longer those discussions take, the longer the delay in progressing new drugs legislation through the Dáil.

md1 Source: TheJournal.ie - 11 March 2015

A Bill to amend the Misuse of Drugs Act would make it possible once again for new psychoactive substances to be scheduled by use of Ministerial powers, meaning that such substances could be easily controlled on a case-by-case basis (as last spring’s emergency legislation only covered drugs that had previously been scheduled).

Currently, substances that are not specifically scheduled under the Misuse of Drugs Act are dealt with under the Criminal Justice (Psychoactive Substances) Act. However, gardaí have been finding it difficult to bring prosecutions under this legislation, which was brought in to deal with the sale of ‘legal highs’ through head shops.

A synthetic cannabinoid substance marketed as ‘Clockwork Orange’ has been linked to the deaths of two young men in Monaghan in the last year.

The issue of new drugs has also been back in the headlines in recent months following the death in Cork of 18-year-old Alex Ryan after taking 25I-NBOMe (known colloquially as N-Bomb) at a house party.

Detective Inspector Tony Howard from the National Drugs and Organised Crime Bureau summed up the problem in a Prime Time report on the issue late last year:

We have an issue with some new psychoactive substances because the legislation has done a major job on closing down the industry, however there are certain proofs we need for the courts and one of them is to prove they are psychoactive.

Howard said that only five prosecutions had been taken under the legislation introduced to crack down on head shops, following a surge in psychoactive powders being sold openly in the country’s towns and cities up to its introduction in 2010.

In order to pursue a prosecution for substances seized from a person or being sold in the street, that substance must be classified as being psychoactive. 

In regard to Clockwork Orange, Howard said that problems bringing prosecutions would soon be addressed as “it is only a matter of time before the Department of Health bring it in as a controlled drug, under the Misuse of Drugs Act, which is our primary legislation for dealing with illicit drugs here in Ireland”.

Lack of progress 

TDs asking Dáil questions about plans to outlaw Clockwork Orange in recent months were told the bill to amend the Misuse of Drugs Act was listed for publication in the Fine Gael-Labour coalition’s legislative programme for 2016.

Responding to a query from TheJournal.ie this week, the Department of Health confirmed that was still the intention. Here’s their statement in full:

“Following a Court of Appeal decision on 10 March 2015 which declared unconstitutional the section of the Misuse of Drugs Act empowering the Government to declare substances to be controlled under the Act, the Misuse of Drugs (Amendment) Act 2015 was urgently enacted to recontrol all substances which had previously been declared controlled by Government order. These included ecstasy and a large number of new psychoactive substances.

“A Bill to amend the Misuse of Drugs Act to restore the Government’s power to declare substances to be controlled and to clarify the provisions under which Ministerial orders and regulations are made is currently being drafted and is listed in the Government Legislative Programme for publication in 2016.

Once enacted, the Government may declare new substances controlled under the Act, including new psychoactive substances such as Clockwork Orange, thereby making unauthorised possession or supply of such substances an offence.

New drugs 

A major report on the European drug market this week found that the growth in use of new substances shows no sign of slowing down.

The report – from the European Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drug Addiction (EMCDDA) and Europol – said there were now more than 560 ‘new substances’ being monitored. More than 380 of the new drugs currently being monitored were detected in the last year alone.

Detective Sergeant Brian Roberts of the Drugs and Organised Crime Bureau told this website the ever-increasing number of new psychoactive substances was a challenge for law enforcement agencies around the world.

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“Whereas many years ago white powder drugs seen in Ireland were often substances found to contain cocaine or amphetamine now these powders can contain any number of sinister new substances which have little research around them.

Similarly tablets sold as ecstasy have been found to contain drugs such as PMMA rather than MDMA and there has been significant drug implicated deaths associated with these compounds.

He added:

“The issue of New Psychoactive Substances is a very real one for society in general.

“There is undoubtedly links with dependency, depression and suicide as a result of misuse of these drugs.

Ultimately people do not know what they are consuming when they experiment with white powder stimulants, synthetic cannabinoids and many more types of new psychoactive substances. 

head Dublin's head shops close - in 2010. Source: Sasko Lavrov

The lack of progress in bringing in the amendment to the Misuse of Drugs Act means the plan to introduce a medically-supervised drug injection centre in Dublin will also have to be delayed, as provision for it was also included in that planned legislation.

Tony Duffin of the Ana Liffey Drug Project, who has been campaigning for the facility, says progress is needed on the legislation for a number of reasons.

It offers our legislators the opportunity to debate and decide how we wish to respond to the issue of personal drug use – and in particular whether possession for personal use is best dealt with through a health focused policy, rather than by criminalisation.

He added that as around 400 people currently inject in public in Dublin in any given month, bringing in supervised injection centres would increase access to treatment for drug-users – in addition to decreasing drug litter.

Related: Dublin will be getting its first drug injection centre within 18 months

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

About the author:

Daragh Brophy

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