The Government has been urged not to accept any proposals from a high-level committee that would continue to criminalise the possession of drugs for personal use.
CityWide, a national network of drug organisations, said that it would be a “shame” if Irish society continued criminalising people for what was a health and social problem. Its coordinator Anna Quigley was responding to reports in yesterday’s Irish Examiner that the State working group examining drug possession laws was thought to be favouring a diversion scheme.
The proposal being mulled over would mean that the expert body would be stopping short of recommending decriminalisation of the possession of drugs for personal use. Under a diversion scheme, possession would remain a criminal offence, but people caught with amounts deemed to be for their personal use, would be sent by gardaí for a health intervention, rather than face criminal prosecution.
The working group has sought, and has been recently given, a three-month extension to finalise its recommendations.
“We are calling on the Government to make it clear it will not accept any recommendation from the Working Group that would continue to treat possession for personal use as a criminal offence, as this would be in contradiction with Government policy of treating drug use as a health issue and not a justice one,” said Ms Quigley.
“Such a recommendation would send a message to people who use drugs that as a society, despite having considered all the evidence of the damage caused by a policy of criminalisation, we still consider them to be criminals and will continue to treat them as criminals.”
A range of community and voluntary organisations, including CityWide, Merchants Quay Ireland, the National Family Support Network and the Ana Liffey Drug Project campaigned for decriminalisation.
Ana Liffey chief executive Tony Duffin said the evidence showed that a health response was better than criminalising people who use drugs.
“We need to collectively take our heads out of the sand and recognise that criminalising an individual for their drug use is not helpful. It does not deter drug use – we’ve been doing it for 42 years and yet almost three in 10 Irish adults report using illegal drugs at some point in their lives.
He said the National Drugs Strategy recognised that personal drug use was a health issue.
“Trying to deal with personal drug use through adult cautioning or diversion while keeping those people under the management of the criminal justice system is just retrofitting health services into the justice system,” he said.
“This approach may be required under our current laws, but it is an expensive and complex way of delivering health services.”