Fundamental reform of drug policy needed

30 June 2023
  • Labour submission to Citizens’ Assembly on drug use calls for decriminalisation of users
  • Labour supports the principle of legislation for the legalisation of cannabis for recreational and medicinal use in Ireland

In its submission to the Citizens’ Assembly on Drug Use, Labour justice spokesperson Aodhán Ó Ríordáin has urged reform of Ireland’s current approach to drug policy.

Deputy Ó Ríordáin said:

“The Labour Party do not believe we can solve the issue of drugs through criminal sanction against the user. The issue of decriminalisation of the person should and must be at the forefront of our approach. Addiction needs to be treated as a health issue, not a legal one.

“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.

“That’s why we urge the Assembly to commission research or ask the relevant Departments to assess the costs to the State and the individuals impacted, of the current policy of criminalising the user. It is our view these resources could be more usefully applied to tackling and prosecuting serious crime.

“On the issue of the legalisation of cannabis, the scientific evidence for the link between severe mental health issues and cannabis use is established beyond doubt.

“However, the Labour Party notes the widespread legalisation of cannabis for recreational and medicinal use in many US states, and other countries. We also acknowledge the increasing support among the general public and the relevant professional communities in favour of legalisation. Dependency on and abuse of drugs, including cannabis, is a medical issue and not a criminal one.

“Following the adoption of a motion at our Party Conference in 2017, the Labour Party supports the principle of legislation for the legalisation of cannabis for recreational and medicinal use in Ireland.

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

“Those who need these services deserve humane and compassionate treatment. Those affected 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 need urgent action from the government to help save people’s lives.”

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