Brittany Helmer-Peschier writes about the recent announcement that the Irish Government are to take steps to decriminalise drugs.
Ireland has moved towards decriminalizing drug abuse by choosing to open injection rooms. Next year in Dublin, supervised rooms will be made available for drug users to take drugs under safe circumstances. These rooms will also be opened in Cork, Galway, and Limerick.
The Minister in charge of the National Drugs Strategy, Aodhán Ó Ríordáin, will announce the move to the London School of Economics. According to the Irish Times, he will also outline plans to decriminalize the possession of small amounts of drugs, including heroin, cocaine and cannabis, for personal use. He has described this plan as a “radical cultural shift” in the approach to drug addiction.
“These are clinically controlled environments which aim to engage hard-to-reach populations” of drug users, including homeless drug users who would otherwise take drugs in the open, creating risks to themselves and the public.
Mr. Ó Ríordáin has said “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”.
He also told the Irish Times that drug addiction should be removed from the criminal justice system and that there was now a “strong consensus that drugs across the board should be decriminalized”, but that this would be a matter “for the next government”.
Emphasizing the difference between legalization and decriminalization, Mr. Ó Ríordáin told the Irish Times “it would remain a crime to sell, distribute or profit from illicit drugs. But it would not be a crime to be a drug user or addict”.
According to the Irish Examiner, in July the public was asked to voice their opinion about decriminalizing drugs. The Oireachtas Justice Committee asked for submissions from locals and organizations on the current model of criminalization.
This is a result of the committee taking a trip to Portugal to see how the decriminalization of the possession of drugs has affected the country.
The Justice Committee stated in a report about Portugal that the decriminalizing drug possession did not result in an increase in drug use, nor did it make the country a hot spot for tourists seeking to enjoy drugs without consequence.
The Portuguese government also said that the number of crimes directly related to drugs had decreased, there was at least the same level of intolerance towards drug trafficking, and the number of HIV/AIDS cases decreased dramatically.
The report said “an important component” is that people do not get a criminal record, affecting their employment and travel prospects. It said the system had “actually resulted in reducing costs to the state” as it brought to an end thousands of criminal investigations and court cases.
Under this new law in Portugal, people are allowed to possess a 10 day supply of drugs for personal use. If they are discovered by police, they can be referred to a help center. Employers are also offered tax breaks for hiring recovering drug addicts and the employee is paid an equivalent of minimum wage by the state.
Tony Duffin, director of the Ana Liffey Drug Project, welcomed the consultation by the committee.
“Ultimately, the evidence internationally is that drug use is best dealt with primarily as a health issue and not as a criminal justice one,” he said. “It is this approach that brings the best results, in terms of both health outcomes and cost effectiveness.”
The deadline for submissions was August 7th and the results remain yet to be seen.
Ireland is finally taking several steps toward decriminalizing drugs and providing help for users instead of punishing them. Though it will be a slow process, decriminalization could happen within the next decade or so.