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Gino Kenny: It's time to decriminalise the possession of cannabis for personal use

The People Before Profit TD says his bill will provide a stepping stone to a more progressive drugs policy in Ireland.

Gino Kenny

TODAY, I WILL bring a bill to Dáil Éireann to decriminalise the possession of small amounts of cannabis for personal use.

This is a moderate bill which is the start of a national conversation that Ireland needs to have about how we treat the possession of cannabis for personal use.

The legislation that I will move in the Dáil this week is timely, as other countries are moving towards a model of the regulation of cannabis as opposed to treating it as a criminal justice matter. Simply put, the present laws on criminalisation do not work.

The bill which I will bring forward amends the Misuse of Drugs Act 1977 to enable a person who is at least 18 years of age to have possession, for the person’s personal use, of 7 grams of cannabis or 2.5 grams of cannabis resin.

People often confuse the term decriminalisation and legalisation and do not understand the difference between the two. Decriminalisation of cannabis is simply removing the criminal penalties attached to the person, it does not make cannabis legal.

The reality is that tens of thousands of people use cannabis. Consuming or possessing a relatively small amount can land a person in court or worse still a criminal record.

Compare this to the way we treat alcohol. Research from Alcohol Action and University College Cork (UCC) School of Public Health this year has shown that four people a day in Ireland die from alcohol related issues – and yet alcohol is legal and regulated. There is no more reason for cannabis to be illegal than there is for alcohol.

Reasons why

People Before Profit are totally opposed to the criminalisation of cannabis users. We believe that prohibition should come to an end, and that proper research should be undertaken by agencies that are independent of corporate influence into the benefits of regulation.

In fact, more generally, People Before Profit believe that all personnel drug use should be treated as a harm reduction matter. This bill, though, is a necessary step and will begin a conversation and provide a stepping stone to a more progressive drugs policy in Ireland.

We have seen the detrimental impact a criminal conviction can have on the lives of people. It can impact travel opportunities, employment opportunities, and housing opportunities.

Prosecutions for the possession of small amounts of cannabis in Ireland have halved in the last year. In 2020, there were 11,127 prosecutions for the possession of cannabis. In 2021, this figure fell to under 6,000.

This is down to the introduction of adult cautions instead of court appearances for people in possession of cannabis. This is an improvement but a limited way of dealing with the issue.

But even though it is illegal in Ireland, we can see that the use of cannabis has increased. Ireland has one of the highest usage rates of cannabis in the EU. Almost 30% of adults between the age of 15-64 in Ireland have said that they have used cannabis at least one in their lifetime, whilst 17% of the adult population has used cannabis in the last 12 months – over double the European average of 7%.

It is true to say that some people, especially some younger people, can have adverse effects to the overuse of more potent forms of cannabis. Prohibition has meant that cannabis is more likely to be mixed with more harmful substances which can have detrimental effects. If it were regulated, there would be far less likelihood of harm.

International precedent

There is precedent for Ireland to legislate for the decriminalisation of cannabis for personal use. Across the world countries are recognising that prohibition of cannabis has not worked, it has only enriched and emboldened the black market.

In the US, Joe Biden is taking steps to change American policy on cannabis by pardoning thousands of people who had been given federal charges for possession of marijuana. This is whilst over 40 states in the US have legalised cannabis in some form. However, it remains illegal at a federal level.

In the EU, Malta has legalised cannabis for recreational use. There, possession of up to seven grams of cannabis will be legal for those aged 18 and above, and it will be permissible to grow up to four cannabis plants at home, with up to 50g of the dried product storable.

Germany is also planning to go much further than the proposal that I will bring to the Dáil. They are planning to allow for the legalisation of up 30 grams for recreational use where shops and pharmacies with a licence would be allowed to sell cannabis.

They are also proposing to allow for the cultivation of three cannabis plants per person. This has yet to be approved by the German parliament, but in an important development the European Commission has given its approval.

Other countries, such as Uruguay, the Netherlands, Luxembourg and Canada have legislated for the recreational use of cannabis in different ways.

Time to step up

There is an ongoing debate on criminalisation for cannabis possession, which is a very worthwhile debate to have. There is also a consensus in Irish society, that there needs to be a national conversation on drug reform more generally.

For now, Ireland needs to move with the changing times and begin that conversation on decriminalisation and regulation of cannabis.

Decriminalisation can reduce the burden on the criminal justice system by eliminating Court time, Garda time, legal practitioners, and the costs of imprisonment, while also removing the harmful consequences the person may face such as stigma, loss of employment, loss of opportunity and negative social outcomes.

For these reasons, I am calling on all political parties and independent TDs in the Dáil to support the passage of this moderate bill through the legislative process.

Ireland worldwide has been seen to lead the way on progressive issues such as a woman’s right to choose and on same sex marriage. It is time that we challenge the status quo and begin a new narrative that puts people first, not the substance. This bill represents Ireland’s chance to be part of the new narrative.

Gino Kenny is a People Before Profit TD for Dublin Mid-West and the party’s spokesperson on health.

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