Minister for National Drugs Strategy hails “ambitious” recommendations to decriminalise drugs in Ireland

On Monday, the Assembly released a statement calling for a health-led approach to tackling drug misuse and possession in Ireland, as opposed to through judicial sentencing. 

Decriminalisation of drugs has been discussed at the Citizens Assembly

By Joseph Murray

The Minister for National Drugs Strategy in Ireland has hailed the “ambitious” recommendations by the Citizens’ Assembly which have called for the decriminalisation of drugs in Ireland.

On Monday, the Assembly released a statement calling for a health-led approach to tackling drug misuse and possession in Ireland, instead of through judicial sentencing. 

Today (27 October), in a statement to Galway Pulse, Fine Gael TD for Galway West Hildergarde Naughton has praised the provisional recommendations that have been developed during seven months of deliberations.

“The recommendations set out an ambitious, comprehensive and health-led approach to reducing the harmful impact of drug use,” she said.

“I look forward to receiving the final report of the Assembly and commit to giving detailed consideration of the report and its recommendations, in conjunction with the Oireachtas and my Government colleagues.”

Also speaking to Galway Pulse, a member of the Citizens’ Assembly has outlined what the proposed changes may look like and when we can expect to see their implementation.

Recommended approach

In total, the Assembly made 36 recommendations for alterations to the State’s stance on drug use and possession in Ireland. 

Among the proposals, it called for the introduction of a “comprehensive” health-led response to possession of drugs for personal use.

The response, according to the group, should consist of legislative changes, enhanced treatment services, a dedicated Cabinet Committee and increased dedication to tackling the issue.

According to the current legislation, the Misuse of Drugs Act 1977, the misuse of opium carries convictions of up to 14 years, while possession of other controlled substances can carry sentences of up to seven years if convicted on indictment. 

The Assembly says that a health-led response would mean that drug use and misuse would be seen as public health issues, rather than issues of criminal justice. It is hoped that this approach would minimise, or potentially completely remove, the possibility of criminal convictions and prison sentences for simple possession of drugs.

“First proactive step”

Fionn Sexton Connolly, University of Galway’s Postgraduate Taught Officer, was a member of the Advisory Support group for the Citizens’ Assembly which made the recommendations. He believes that the advised approach is the best way to tackle Ireland’s growing drug problem. 

“It’s all about harm reduction. The entire purpose of this Citizens’ Assembly has been with one goal in mind and that’s reducing the harm that drug use has had in society over the last 30 or 40 years,” he explained.

“This is shifting punishment for drug use away from punishment and towards treatment. Hopefully what we’re going to see and hopefully what this will mean is that over the next few years, as this legislative framework is created, people are going to be put away from jail cells.”

I think that doing nothing isn’t going to do anything. This is the very first proactive step that the state has ever taken towards acknowledging drug use as a health issue rather than as a criminal justice issue.”

Estimated timeline

Although the recommendations have now been presented to the government, their implementation remains some way off.

Mr Sexton Connolly says that his ideal timeline for their introduction would be within the next five years, however, he believes it could take significantly longer.

“I think that the recommendations that we’ve seen could take another 10 years to implement… So I’d say the ideal timeline is five years, but it could be anywhere between 10 and 15 years without the right political will,” he said.

With the proposals now released to the public, the Assembly’s final report will be submitted to the Oireachtas by the end of this year, with action expected to follow.

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