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Ireland Considers Major Drug Policy Shift That Includes Decriminalizing Cannabis

November 2, 2015

Ireland is looking to make a radical cultural shift in how they handle drug policy on the Emerald Isle in an effort to refocus on the medical, compassionate side of drug use, rather than relying solely on the criminal justice system.

Aodhán Ó Ríordáin, the Minister of the National Drug Policy, is making the announcement today at the London School of Economics, and his plans are ambitious and far-reaching. One of the first changes will be the introduction of medically supervised injection rooms available in Dublin, followed by more injection rooms available in Cork, Galway, and Limerick. Although the plan has been criticized as potentially encouraging drug abuse, Mr. Ó Ríordáin defended the proposal, saying that these rooms will provide a clinical, sterile environment for drug users who might otherwise be injecting themselves in public, endangering both themselves and others.

In addition, another part of the proposal would be the decriminalization of such drugs as cocaine, heroin, and cannabis. The move comes in the wake of a leaked report from the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime that recommends a global end to the criminalization of drugs, although the report was retracted after pressure from other countries.

Back in Ireland, Mr. Ó Ríordáin is planning to update and revise the Misuse of Drugs Act to remove certain “legislative obstacles” that would otherwise prohibit the use of drugs. He emphasized that he wants to remove the stigma associated with drug use that often prevents drug addicts from seeking the help that they need, and help remove the societal shame that dominates discourse on the use of drugs.

“I am firmly of the view that there needs to be a cultural shift in how we regard substance misuse if we are to break this cycle and make a serious attempt to tackle drug and alcohol addiction,” said Mr Ó Ríordáin, making a point to note that although he advocates decriminalization, legalization is another story. It would still be a crime to sell, distribute, or profit from drugs, but it would not be a crime to be a drug user or addict.

“This will be a wider discussion under the next government but once people get their head around the argument, about what decriminalisation actually means, that policy won’t be about the drug but about the individual. Then regardless of the drug the individual needs an intervention and society will be saying, ‘the substance is illegal, but you are not a criminal for taking it.’”

This approach to drug policy is reminiscent of Portugal’s nationwide decriminalization efforts, which cut the number of drug addicts in half through treating drug use as a social health issue rather than a crime.

Could this reflect a new attitude about how we treat drugs and those who use them? #JustSayKnow