Government to announce ‘biggest shift’ in State drugs policy

Government to announce ‘biggest shift’ in State drugs policy
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The Government will today formally announce proposals which it claims mark “the biggest shift” in the State’s approach to drug use.

Central to the Government’s plans is to defer people caught by gardaí in possession of drugs for personal use to a health intervention rather than face prosecution in the courts.

This will be for a first offence only. For a second offence, gardaí will have the discretion to apply an adult caution or refer to health services again. A third offence would be dealt with within the criminal justice system.

Sources have described it as a “half-way house” between criminalisation and decriminalisation.

The Government’s plans are based on the report of a State working group, details of which, along with the Government’s proposals, were revealed in the Irish Examiner last week.

At a launch today, the Government will publish a number of documents, including the main report and a nine-page minority report written by the group’s chairman, Mr Justice Garreth Sheehan, in which he urged ministers to resist “any form of decriminalisation”.

Both the majority report and the Government’s plans are clear and that possession of drugs will remain a criminal offence.

The Government’s proposals don’t go as far as the majority report, which called for a health intervention for at least the first three times a person is caught in possession of drugs.

Sources said the Government will today describe its plans as “undeniably the biggest shift” in the country’s approach to drug use. The proposals will say that, while the Government is not decriminalising drugs, a mechanism will be introduced to defer people to health and social services for help and support. 

Health Minister Simon Harris, Justice Minister Charlie Flanagan and drugs strategy minister Catherine Byrne will speak today. They will emphasise that while a softer approach is being taken to users, the State will be “relentless” in pursuit of drug gangs.

The Ana Liffey Drug Project has called on the Government to seek a detailed legal opinion on the basis decriminalisation was deemed impossible under Ireland’s legal system.

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