The Minister for Justice has rejected claims Ireland is “sleepwalking” towards the legalisation of cannabis.
Charlie Flanagan was speaking after a group of doctors voiced concern over what they called an “increasingly relaxed attitudes towards cannabis amongst legislators, media and commentators.”
In the letter, the doctors warned that cannabis is now the most common substance involved in drug-related admissions to psychiatric hospitals in Ireland.
They also said it is the most common drug involved in new treatment episodes at addiction services nationally.
They warn that cannabis use during adolescence increases the risk of mental disorders and impairments to memory and thinking.
The Minister of State for Drug Strategy Catherine Byrne is due to brings proposals aimed at liberalising Ireland’s drug laws to Cabinet in the coming weeks.
Under the plans, those caught with a small amount of drugs will be referred to an addiction or counselling service instead of prosecuted.
Speaking this morning, Justice Minister Charlie Flanagan said officials have been considering the legislation for a number of months.
“Over the past number of months, we have been engaged at cross-departmental level, and I believe the report, when published, will be balanced,” he said.
“But I am not going to pre-empt its findings until such time as it goes before Government – which I would expect to happen within the next three to four weeks.”
In their letter, the doctors recognised that there is a difference between decriminalisation and legalisation, but said they believe that decriminalisation and medicinal cannabis campaigns have “proven to be effective ‘Trojan horse’ strategies on the road to full legalisation and commercialisation” in other jurisdictions.
They said the public is being “kept in the dark regarding the harmful side to ‘weed’ – and warned that: “Those harmful effects are magnified now with the prevalence of a much more potent form of cannabis than the form which was common in the 1980s and 1990s.”
The proposals Minister Byrne will bring to Cabinet came after a working group spent more than a year examining alternative approaches to the personal possession of illegal drugs.
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.
The committee recommended a similar approach be introduced in Ireland.