Senator backs decriminalisation of drugs for personal use

The new drug strategy could decriminalise the personal use of drugs - including heroin, cocaine and cannabis

Senator backs decriminalisation of drugs for personal use

File photo: Steve Parsons/PA Wire/PA Images

A former Minister for Drugs has backed proposals to decriminalise the personal use of drugs - including heroin, cocaine and cannabis - in Ireland.

The proposals will reportedly be included in the new National Drug Strategy set to be published before the summer.

The strategy will see the establishment of a new group which will consider the approach taken in other jurisdictions to possession of small quantities of drugs.

On Newstalk Breakfast this morning, former minister of state, Aodhán Ó Ríordáin said people dealing with addiction problems need medical help – not court convictions.

“About 70% of the drug cases in front of our courts at the moment are for possession for personal use, which to be honest is a complete waste of garda time and criminal justice time,” he said.

“Fundamentally if you are in addiction you need help, you need medical support, you need to get out of the clutches of the drug gangs; you don’t need to be dragged through the courts.”

The Portuguese model

The Oireachtas Justice Committee travelled to Portugal in 2015, to see first-hand the effect of the decriminalisation policy – which was introduced there in 2001.

Since the introduction of the policy, the country has seen a decline in drug use among young people, a sharp drop in drug related deaths, a drop in new HIV cases and a surge in patients attending health clinics that deal with addiction.

It is believed that there is strong support at Cabinet level for adopting a similar model and Catherine Byrne - the current minister of state for drugs - is expected to task the group with examining the effectiveness of Ireland’s current model - and compare it with the advantages and disadvantages of other approaches.

The group will be asked to report back within 12 months.

The resultant policy will then be included in the National Drug Strategy, which will govern Ireland’s approach to drugs policy from now until 2020.

Senator Ó Ríordáin said the criminal justice system is “simply not working” for people facing addiction – adding that the decriminalisation approach could free up the resources needed to tackle criminal drug gangs.

“Certainly I think everybody would agree that fundamentally somebody with addiction issues is not a criminal but somebody who needs medical help,” he said.

“The idea is that you would have a situation where somebody who has an addiction is fundamentally a patient, fundamentally someone who should be surrounded by compassion, not somebody who is sitting in a courtroom.”

Senator Ó Ríordáin said there is strong cross-party support for changing Ireland’s approach – although there will inevitably be differences of opinion surrounding how far the changes should go.

You can listen back to Senator Ó Ríordáin’s full conversation with Paul Williams here: