Plans to stop prosecuting people for personal possession of cocaine and ecstasy do not go far enough, according to a Dublin youth worker.
The Minister for State for Drugs Strategy Frank Feighan has said Gardaí should have the power to caution rather than prosecute people caught with small amounts of the drugs.
Since 2020, Gardaí have had the power to apply cautions to people caught with small amounts of cannabis; however, a Government task-force on mental health and addiction has called for that to be extended.
The task-force has warned that the law does not cover all forms of cannabis and should be expanded to include cocaine and ecstasy.
Minister Feighan has expressed support for the call, noting that it is in line with the Government’s aim of introducing a health-led approach to drugs.
On Newstalk Breakfast this morning, Eddie D’Arcy, a well-known youth worker with over 40 years' experience, said the plan is a “step in the right direction” – but warned that it does not address the damage caused by drug gangs.
“I would say, I don’t think it goes far enough,” he said.
“My view, and the view of over 100 frontline youth workers in Dublin who have signed a letter calling for debate on the regulation of drugs, believe that, in fact, we should move towards the legalisation of, at least, cannabis.
“Not because we don’t recognise the harm and damage that drugs do to young people and their families – but because we also recognise the harm and damage that the illegal drug gangs create.”
Mr D’Arcy said cocaine remains the “biggest profit-making drug for drug gangs in Ireland”.
“As you say its use is widely spread geographically across the island,” he said. “Many people see it as a recreational drug they use themselves for weekends.
“So, for me, if we are going to decriminalise it that is a move in the right direction; however, if we just decriminalise, we are still insisting that people purchase from illegal drug gangs and I think there is something both unsavoury and unethical about that.”
Mr D‘Arcy rejected the idea decriminalisation will see a long-term increase in drug use.
“I think people often take a giant step in their head and say, if we decriminalise cannabis, suddenly everybody in Ireland is going to be smoking weed,” he said. “There is no evidence to suggest that.”
“If you take tobacco, which is legal, many people make intelligent decisions not to smoke tobacco because they understand the health dangers to themselves if they smoke.
“I think the same people would make those same intelligent decisions.
“Particularly if the profits that come from the regulated market can be ploughed into both a really good public health campaign and services for those who, unfortunately, do end up becoming addicted.”
The youth worker said he is “very much aware” of the potential harms caused by cannabis and drug use – said prohibition is not working.
“A very high percentage of people who want to smoke cannabis in Ireland are actually already smoking it,” he said.
“We are actually creating more difficulty, because some of them will find it more difficult to seek help because what they are using is illegal.
“Also, regular use of illegal drugs can bring them into other difficulties around drug debt, intimidation and violence.”
He said many there are many families who “never thought they would be associated with any illegal activity” – who have found themselves in debt to criminals due to drugs.
The Garda Adult Caution Scheme was updated in December 2020 to include the possession of cannabis or cannabis resin for personal use.
The change only relates to offences committed on or after December 14th, 2020.
You can listen back to Mr D'Arcy here: