In a move that has been welcomed by drug treatment professionals around the world, Ireland has announced that it will decriminalise the possession of small quantities of cocaine, cannabis and heroin which are intended for personal use.
The announcement was made by Minister of State for the National Drugs Strategy, Aodhán Ó Ríordáin (above), at the London School of Economics earlier this week. Speaking to the press, Mr Ó Ríordáin explained his reasons for introducing the radical new laws:
‘Too often those with drug problems suffer from stigma, due to a lack of understanding or public education about the nature of addiction. This stigma can be compounded for those who end up with a criminal record due to possession of drugs for their own use.’
Mr Ó Ríordáin also announced plans to open supervised injecting centres in major Irish cities including Dublin, Cork, Galway and Limerick to give users a safe, risk-free environment to use drugs.
A Progressive Approach
The news is reflective of Ireland’s world-leading, harm minimisation approach to drugs.
Mr Ó Ríordáin says that removing the stigma associated with drug use and supporting users through an ‘integrated approach to treatment and rehabilitation based on a continuum of care with clearly defined referral pathways’ is far better than making criminals out of those who possess small quantities of drugs.
His philosophy is backed by extensive research which shows that punishing users rather than helping them is counter-productive – creating a barrier to those who want to get help.
In recent years, a number of overseas countries such as Portugal have accepted that drug addiction is a health issue, rather than a legal one, and implemented policies accordingly.
As discussed in a previous blog, Portugal made the radical move to decriminalise all drugs in 2001. Since then, users caught with small quantities of drugs have been referred to a specialist panel comprised of a doctor, lawyer and social worker, which assesses the person’s situation and refers them for appropriate treatment.
14 years later, research indicates that the approach has paid dividends – with statistics showing that there have been less overdoses and hospitalisations, and an overall decrease in property crimes linked to addiction since the legislation was introduced.
It is hoped that these results will be replicated in Ireland once the legislation comes into force next year.
Mexico Moves to Decriminalise Marijuana
Meanwhile, Mexico has also taken a step towards decriminalisation following a landmark Supreme Court ruling last week.
A lawsuit was initiated by four activists from the Mexican Society for Responsible and Tolerant Personal Use, who sought permission from the government to grow cannabis plants for recreational use.
Last week, four out of five Justices of Mexico’s Supreme Court ruled in their favour, finding it unconstitutional to prevent the group from growing, consuming or possessing marijuana.
However, the ruling currently only applies to the four plaintiffs – meaning that it remains illegal for the time being for others to grow and smoke their own marijuana.
Mexican law requires the Supreme Court to rule favourably another four times before the law can be changed for good, and many have indicated that they will also commence legal action in order to force a change.
UN Backs Decriminalisation
Moves towards decriminalisation are backed by the United Nations, which recently leaked a paper recommending that governments around the world decriminalise drug use and possession.
According to Virgin CEO Richard Branson, an honorary member of the Drug Policy Alliance, a copy of the unreleased document was given to him, to other leading drug advocates and also to the BBC.
However, the statement has reportedly been withdrawn after the United States – a country well known for its harsh drug policies – expressed concerns about the recommendations.
Despite this, drug policy advocates have viewed the statement as a promising indicator of things to come, with Executive Director of the Drug Policy Alliance Ethan Nadelmann stating:
‘On the one hand it’s promising that such a powerful statement strongly affirming the need to decriminalize drug use and possession made it this far in the UN process – that in itself represents a dramatic evolution from previous decades when any talk of decriminalization was studiously suppressed. It reflects both growing support for decriminalization in Europe and Latin America as well as the insistence of UN health, development and human rights agencies that drug control policies adhere to international conventions in those areas as well.’
The UN previously expressed support for a treatment-focussed approach to tackling drug use in its 2015 World Drug Report, in which it stated:
‘For over four decades scientific research has shown that effective treatment for drug-use disorders has helped drug dependent individuals to halt their consumption, prevent relapse, reduce their involvement in crime, change other dysfunctional behaviour and make a positive contribution to their family and community.’
It is hoped that the current trend towards rehabilitation will ultimately lead to drug use being treated as a medical issue rather than a criminal offence, and that some of the billions of dollars wasted in waging the ‘war on drugs’ will be redirected towards education, treatment and social support.