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Should Drugs Be Decriminalised In Ireland?


Should Drugs Be Decriminalised In Ireland?

Last week at Leinster House, the Minister of State for the National Drugs Strategy, Minister Aodhán Ó Riórdain, was speaking to the House about the decriminalisation of drugs and if legal highs should be banned. In an interview last week with the Medical Independent about his views on the drugs issue, the Minister stated that he was interested in the whole area of decriminalisation and replicating the model used in Lisbon, when they changed their legislation on drugs 15 years ago. Even though this might give one the idea that this is the green light going on and that taking drugs will become a legal activity, the Minister did say that he feels that different types of sanctions will have to be introduced to take the place of the current ones.

“We don’t say that someone who parks illegal is a criminal; you just say ‘stop parking illegally please’. I don’t think someone who is shooting-up heroin should be viewed fundamentally as a criminal; that person is someone who has a medical need and needs to be treated with respect. Also, if you’re a parent and you think your child has a drug problem, are you readily going to engage with services that may be available if you think your child is going to be caught and criminal sanctions are going to be used against them?” he said in the interview with David Lynch, who writes for the Medical Independent.

Minister Aodhán Ó Riórdain was appointed in April 2015 to the National Drugs Strategy portfolio (established in 2009, to be completed by 2016), to work on the Misuse of Drugs Act and to create a new National Drugs Strategy by the year 2016. The Minister also works in Equality, New Communities and Culture. After last week’s sessions in relation to issues concerning decriminalising drugs at Leinster House with the Oireachtas, the Joint Committees, on Health and Children, and on Justice, Defence and Equality, he putting the possibility of using the Portugal model forward as a solution to the present problem.

In February 2015, the Joint Committee decided to conduct a study into gang related offenses and crimes committed in the city and the impact and influence drugs had over these crimes. Several hearings were held and in one of these hearings the Portuguese legislation was brought up. The Joint Committee decided to send a team of experts to Lisbon to investigate and look into the model they have adopted. The delegates included Mr. David G. Stanton TD (Chairman), Mr. Finian McGrath TD (Rapporteur), Mr. Alan Farrell TD and Senator Martin Conway accompanied by the Clerk to the Committee.

Upon investigation the delegates found that it is still considered an offense to take or possess drugs in Portugal, but the offense is treated differently, not as a criminal offense as such but an administrative offense, mainly because of the health issues involved with drug use and why people use drugs. The law in Portugal only applies to the possession of a quantity of up to ten day’s supply for personal use. If you are caught with possession of drugs, the person must report within 72 hours to a Commission for Addiction Dissuasion for a treatment programme and be given rehabilitation; if you have more than the stated amount of drugs on you, it is treated outside of this jurisdiction.

In the Lisbon Report, the Committee delegation visited Lisbon to examine the impact of the Portuguese approach concerning the possession of certain drugs and criminal records, and the findings were: “This is an important component of the approach adopted in Portugal. The purpose of this provision is to allow the person the opportunity of a second chance at turning their life around. Having a criminal record for drug abuse may result in employment and other opportunities being unavailable and this, it was suggested, was counterproductive to a person’s recovery and rehabilitation and could result in the person returning to drug abuse.”

Many people caught with drugs in their possession only use it because of their own addictions, mental health problems or because of daily stresses (money, family, marriage, work, pressure in society, poverty etc.) and therefore it seems only fair that one should be given a second chance if caught. There are obvious fears about the legalisation of certain drugs, because it could encourage drug addiction and give drug dealers who know how to manipulate the law more reason to deal drugs, without the fear of being reprimanded. If a situation like this should arise there will be rules and regulations put in place to make sure that this does not happen and in the case of Portugal, 25 other countries, including America, where cannabis were decriminalised, it has worked.

This is a table of the threshold quantities in Portugal. These are the legal dosages a person would be allowed to have on him/her, more than this would be considered illegal:

Plant/Substance Quantity
Heroin 1g
Methadone 1g
Morphine 2g
Opium 10g
Cocaine (Methyl Ester of  Benzoylecgonine) 0.3g
Cocaine (Hydrochloride) 2g
Cannabis (Herbal) 25g
Cannabis (Resin) 5g
Cannabis (Oil) 2.5g
Phencyclidine (PCP) 0.1g
LSD 500ug (0.0005g)
Amphetamine 1g
Tetrydrocannabinol (THC) 0.5g


It is my belief, that Minister Aodhán Ó Riórdain’s ideas (should they be acted on) on dealing with the problem of drug use are highly compassionate. He has said he is for the idea of medical supervised injection rooms (Harm Reduction Strategies) and wants this infused with the new Misuse of Drugs Act.

“The logical jump from needle exchange is to allow people some dignity and compassion and medical supervision when they are injecting. It is a controversial thing to say, but I don’t think what we are doing makes any sense. Does it not make sense, imperfect as it may be, to allow just that small cohort of people who are outside mainstream drug programmes?” he said when talking to David Lynch about the injection rooms.

He also continued saying: “I don’t think it’s much of a leap from giving someone a clean needle to giving them clean heroin. My belief is they (injection rooms) are successful. Obviously, there are issues like what happens if someone brings in their own heroin or what happens if someone overdoses and dies in the centre? Who is responsible for that? It is something worth pursuing but it is a sad reflection of our society that this is a measure that we have to think of introducing.”

Injection rooms are a controversial topic, as it speaks of legal drug use some might say. But even new Lord Mayor Críona Ní Dhálaigh,  has recently said that she, after looking into the idea of medically supervised injection rooms, felt that it is a good idea, even if only tried out on a pilot basis. Parents with young teenagers might feel that their children are at risk of being indoctrinated in a society where nothing seems taboo anymore. But if drugs are decriminalised there will be safety nets put in place to control what is allowed and permissible.

However, funds will be needed to provide a service that can control the problem and provide the necessary facilities to facilitate a model like the one in Portugal and at the moment funding is a problem and limited. It will definitely cost the State less in legal fees and courtroom hours, and money will be saved in this respect if drugs are to be decriminalised; in return all that saved funds could be applied to the rehabilitation centres and injection rooms.

The Joint Committee on Justice, Defence and Equality are inviting written submissions from interested groups or individuals in relation to arguments in favour of or against drugs for personal use and treating it as a problem, relating to health, rather than seeing it as a criminal one. Or you can voice your fears against the decriminalisation of drugs and submit those views in email. For the moment sanctions are in place still to control drug possession, trafficking and dealing. The Committee wants the public to join the discussions and give their views and opinions on the Portugal approach to drug regulation by email before the 7th August 2015. The email address for those interested is:

So what is your take on this? Join the pole and give your view on this and go online today. If you want more information on how you can go about this click here

One Response

  1. John McGroarty says:

    The pursuit of sanctions as a means of holding at bay Ireland’s encroaching illicit drug problem(s) has never amounted to anything more than a national delusion on a significant scale. Relying on Garda and Customs seizure statistics as an indicator of the extent of the problem and the effectiveness of law enforcement in countering the drug peddlers was farcical and would be seen as such had some serious analysis been applied to it.

    The insidious growth of illegal drugs in Ireland can only be contained by destroying the market, e.g., the desire and inclinations of our young people to consume drugs. This was never tackled in a sustained, properly funded, national programme where the emphasis was on education for life. The National Drugs Strategy fell a long way short of that ideal.

    The prevention of drug experimentation on the part of our young people is the key. to the problem. For this to take hold, Irish society needs to get involved and by that I mean the active involvement of entire communities plus teachers, parents, civic leaders, community activists, and inclusive of support from the media and those other community leaders, ie…..celebrities. But the fight back offensive must focus on the youth of the country. We must work to create a powerful negative vibe against the use of drugs that they will identify with from the earliest time in their lives.

    That is why the Portuguese Model is the way to go. No other system across the globe at this time in our evolution is as good (imo) and I have very good reason for saying so. And do not be put off by do-gooders and publicity seekers who shout loudly in the promotion of all kinds of unsound philosophies. Judge the advisers by their track records and the practicalities of their suggestions.

    A really tough anti-drug ethos needs to be introduced and maintained relentlessly and the Portuguese idea is way better than anything else that’s out there and please note that in Portugal ALL sides, say that the pursuit of these anti-drug measures are acceptable in the fight against drug abuse. What is the essence of the Portugurese system ? It’s the only system that calls the drug abuser/user to account and holds him/her to account regardless until an acceptable solution (not perfect but acceptable) is achieved.

    In contrast to that, our system clogs the courts and prisons, fattens lawyers unbelievably, and burdens the Gardai with problems that can not be solved by law enforcement yet law enforcement must devote inestimable resources as a necessary response.

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