In recent years, we have observed a change in the approach to drug policy around the world, towards the decriminalization of possession of drugs for personal use. Ireland, a country with a long-standing conservative drug policy, is now facing a potential change in its approach. These changes may affect not only the law, but also society, the health system and the justice system.
The criminal justice system must move towards a comprehensive health-based response to personal drug possession, according to the final report of the Citizens’ Assembly on drug use. The Assembly, which met from April to October last year, issued 36 recommendations aimed at reducing harm caused by the use of illicit drugs.
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The Irish Government has committed to carrying out extensive consultations before making any decisions on the decriminalization of drugs
The agencies whose views will be sought include the Department of Justice, the Irish Gardaí, the Crown Prosecution Service (DPP) and the Attorney General. This approach aims to ensure that any changes to the law are made taking into account different perspectives and possible consequences.
Ireland’s consultation on drug decriminalization coincides with a major EU study into the heroin market, which warns that the near-total collapse of opium production in Afghanistan last year could result in the market being filled with highly dangerous synthetic opiates, which will have a “significant negative impact on public health and safety.”
In a new report, the European Monitoring Center for Drugs and Drug Addiction (EMCDDA) and Europol said that opium production in Afghanistan – the source of 80% of the world’s heroin supply – fell by 95% in 2023. Opium production was estimated at 333 tonnes in 2023, compared to over 6,000 tonnes per year in the previous six years.
The HSE continues to maintain a ‘red alert’ for heroin users after the highly potent synthetic opioid nitazine was blamed for 70 non-fatal overdoses in Dublin and Cork last November and December.
Stages of drafting a drugs decriminalization bill
One of the first steps towards potential decriminalization is the creation of a dedicated Oireachtas committee. Minister Reid expressed hope that this committee would be established “very soon”, underlining the urgency and importance of this issue to the Irish Government. The committee’s task will be to conduct detailed analyzes and debates on the presented report, which is an important element in the process of shaping future drug policy.
Following initial consultation and analysis by the Oireachtas Committee, the next step will be to draft the Bill. This stage is particularly important because it allows for a thorough analysis of the proposed changes and their potential effects. The bill, after careful review, will then be debated and further discussed in committee, as is standard legislative procedure in Ireland. The final bill will be the result of this work, ready to be presented to the Oireachtas for further consideration.
Schedule and expectations
A significant aspect of government announcements is the clear definition of the expected schedule of actions. Minister Reid expressed hope that the entire process, from initial consultations to the introduction of the final bill, would be completed “in 2024, not 2025”. Such a statement underlines the government’s determination to respond quickly to the need for changes in drug policy, while emphasizing that this process requires thoroughness and accountability.
“Although possession of controlled drugs would remain illegal, people caught possessing illicit drugs for personal use would primarily have broad opportunities to voluntarily engage in health-promoting services,” the report says.
The Committee believes that this approach could completely eliminate the possibility of conviction and imprisonment for possession of any illicit drug. People found to be in possession of illicit drugs will receive a medical referral including access to addiction services.
The importance of drugs changes for Ireland
The potential decriminalization of drugs in Ireland has far-reaching implications. These include not only changes in law and judicial procedures, but also impacts on the healthcare system, social policy and society generally. Decriminalization can also help change the narrative around drug use, placing greater emphasis on prevention, education and support for addicts.
The assembly of 99 randomly selected citizens endorsed a “comprehensive health approach” to drug possession. The Assembly took the view that members should focus on the end result – what they want from Ireland’s drug law – and leave it to politicians to determine how it will be implemented.
The drug decriminalization process in Ireland is complex and multi-stage. The government has taken steps towards extensive consultations and analyzes aimed at preparing a thoroughly considered and responsible change in drug policy. Setting an expected roadmap for 2024 shows both determination and caution in approaching this sensitive issue. The final decisions and their impact on Irish society will be the subject of further observation and analysis.
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First published in FaktyKonopne. A third-party contributor translated and adapted the article from the original. In case of discrepancy, the original will prevail.
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