Government asks public for opinions on personal drug possession laws

A Government Working Group is examining alternatives to criminal prosecution

The Government has launched a public consultation on Ireland's laws on the possession of drugs for personal use.

It's part of the National Drug Strategy which aims to reduce the harm caused by drug use in the community.

The Government established a working group almost a year ago to look at alternatives to criminal conviction for minor drug possession.

Tasked with examining the approaches taken in other jurisdictions, the working group is due to make recommendations to Government within 12 months.

The plan could see people caught with small quantities of drugs – including heroin, cocaine and cannabis – escaping criminal conviction.

Health-led

Launching the consultation this afternoon, the Minister of State for Drug Strategy, Catherine Byrne said the Government is committed to supporting a health-led approach to drug use.

"I am very conscious that a criminal conviction for drug possession can have a long term negative effect on a person’s ability to work and travel," she said.

"It can stigmatise a young person and prevent them from achieving their potential into the future."

She said the group is especially anxious to hear the views of young people and families who may be impacted by Ireland's current laws.

Barrier to recovery

The Taoiseach Leo Varadkar has already given his blessing to plans to liberalise personal possession laws - noting that criminal punishment for minor drug use simply provides an extra barrier to recovery.

Speaking at the launch of the working group last year, he said: “Treating substance abuse and drug addiction as a public health challenge, rather than a criminal justice matter, helps individuals, helps families, and helps communities,” he said.

“It reduces crime because it rebuilds lives. So it benefits all of us.”  

This afternoon, the Justice Minister Charlie noted that an " effective criminal justice system is one which operates in the best interest of society as a whole."

"I am keen to explore measures which would prevent situations where people, particularly young people, could descend into a life of offending and re-offending," he said.

Portugal model

The working Group was set up after the Oireachtas Justice Committee travelled to Portugal in 2015 to see first-hand the effect of the country's decriminalisation policy.

Since the policy was introduced there in 2001, there has been 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.

The committee recommended a similar approach be introduced in Ireland - and the new working group will decide whether to act upon that recommendation.

You can have your say on the plans by filling out the online questionnaire on the Department of Health's website.