Decriminalisation of drug user must be central to new Citizens’ Assembly

14 February 2023

Labour justice spokesperson Aodhán Ó Ríordáin said the Citizens’ Assembly on drugs as announced by government today must place communities at the heart of its discussions.

Calling for a move to a harm reduction approach, Deputy Ó Ríordáin said Ireland must move from its archaic and failed criminal approach, to a health led approach to drugs.

Deputy Ó Ríordáin said:

“Labour has campaigned for the introduction of a Citizens’ Assembly on drugs for a long time and it is a positive move to see Government agree to holding one in April 2023.

“There are some who think we can solve the issue of drugs through criminal sanction. It can’t work and it hasn’t worked anywhere. The issue of decriminalisation of the person must be at the forefront of their agenda. Drug addiction needs to be treated as a health issue, not a legal matter.

“Despite the ample evidence suggesting that giving someone a criminal record for possession of drugs for personal use is an ineffective way to get them to stop using, in Ireland, you can be jailed for up to seven years for possession of an illicit drug for personal use. The criminal record itself, which can result in barriers to employment, travel, and relationships, can end up doing more harm to the individual than their drug use.

“Drugs and harmful drug use is an unfortunate feature of every community nationwide. Labour is advocating for a community-based health-led alternative response is adopted to target the adverse health, social and economic consequences of drug use.

“It is crucial that we provide harm reduction services to address disease transmission and overdoses, as has been done in Portugal, for example.

“The Citizens’ Assembly is a key tool that is paramount to change in this society. We have seen the benefits of bringing all voices into the room on issues like marriage equality, abortion rights and more recently on biodiversity.

“Now is also the time to put more resources into addressing the root causes of drug addiction, so that we can help individuals and communities whose daily lives are blighted by drugs.

“Those who need these services deserve humane and compassionate treatment. Those who are crippled by addiction deserve the care and compassion of this state, and not to be forced through the criminal justice system. We need to approach drug policy with pragmatism, not moralism. We need to move beyond the moralisation of drugs and to get sensible about drug policy. We need to protect vulnerable users. We now need urgent action from the government to help save people’s lives.”

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