As the years go by the question has increasingly been asked, when will Ireland overturn the prohibition of drugs? More recently places like nightclubs and bars have attempted to educate their patrons on drug use, accepting that this is something that happens among their customer base and providing resources for anyone who may have a bad experience as well as advice for first-time users. 

What are some common arguments for legalisation?

The main argument for the legalisation of drugs lies in health and safety. At present, there is a concern that should someone present to the hospital in a drug-induced state they will be subject to criminal action, a concern that sees many people needlessly take risks and refuse to seek medical help in the event of an overdose. With legislation comes regulation, creating a much safer environment for drug users, especially in the event of a medical emergency.

Another argument that has been presented for the legalisation of drugs lies in the freedom of choice debate. Many people view drugs such as cannabis as having many benefits that outweigh any cons, especially viewing cannabis as less harmful than alcohol or cigarettes, both of which are a huge part of Irish culture. This is just an example of a common argument found among advocates for legalisation, but what has the government had to say on the matter?

And for some common arguments against legalisation?

The bottom line for many people against legalisation is that drugs are harmful and addictive. There is a concern that upon legalisation drug use would become widespread, with those who had never considered it before now being exposed to a risk to their health. This is of course a fair concern as public health problems impact society on many levels and this may be something that Ireland does not currently have the resources to deal with. 

There is an additional concern that legalisation would have no bearing on drug-related crime and violence. Even if drugs were available in a regulated setting, there may still be a black market set to undercut these prices and sell to those who were unable to buy in a regulated setting, such as teenagers. There is a growing concern that Ireland would become an access point for illegal drug trafficking into mainland Europe, potentially harming international relations that are incredibly valuable to trade.

Government Opinion.

The debate has not seen much attention from the Dáil in recent years, with the last relevant debate on cannabis taking place over six years ago. This debate forms a good basis for the options available with the legalisation of drugs; prohibition, decriminalisation or regulation. Each of these options has its own pros and cons, which this article would like to consider in some more detail.

Prohibition.

In the Dáil, the majority opinion was in support of continued prohibition and largely follows the arguments mentioned above. There was a large concern for the economic effect of legalisation and the general consensus was that the benefits of legislation would not outweigh these costs of regulation. Another point mentioned by these Ministers was that of public health. With prohibitions on the sale of alcohol and tobacco on the rise, it would be entirely counterproductive at this juncture to introduce drugs into the social sphere. This argument is nothing that we have not heard before and frankly relied largely on saving public funds rather than considering any larger issues at play in this debate.

Decriminalisation.

This is by far the most beneficial to the debate offered by the Irish Government. Here consideration was given to the strain on our prison system and the need to stop using prison as a means to tackle the drug issue. Ministers here considered that users found with practically negligible amounts either in their system or on their person should not face a criminal conviction as this is largely a waste of time and resources. While it was recognised that this process would require some extra supports, such as specialised treatment centres, Portugal was pointed to as an example of decriminalisation leading to a reduction in drug-related deaths, with little to no increase in drug prevalence.

Regulation.

The last option considered in this debate was the free availability of drugs, specifically cannabis in this instance, under Government regulation. While public opinion supports this resolution it did not receive much thoughtful consideration in this debate. It was noted that cannabis has been regulated elsewhere in the world with health risks not conclusively proven. Ministers were of the view that regulation would mean criminals could not profit off the sale of cannabis, yet this was effectively as far as Government was willing to take this debate. 

Looking to the future.

While the debate is still ongoing, more and more organisations and individuals are campaigning for the decriminalisation of drugs and yet this is to no avail when it comes to consideration by the Government. Perhaps Ireland does not have the resources to undergo this venture and perhaps more time needs to be spent by the key actors in this debate in trying to find a system that is uniquely suited for Ireland. For now, this topic will simply continue to be one that features more and more prominently in the media until some definitive conclusion can be reached by all involved.

Louise Kennedy – Law Correspondent

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