Government to take 'health led approach' in reforming drug possession laws

Government to take 'health led approach' in reforming drug possession laws

- with reporting from Juno McEnroe

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar confirmed that the Government’s new plan on reforming laws around drug possession will see a move towards a “health led approach”.

He said the Government discussed it at the last Cabinet meeting before the summer break earlier today and that it would be published next week.

The proposals were prepared by Minister of State Catherine Byrne, who is responsible for the national drugs strategy, along with Health Minister Simon Harris and Justice Minister Charlie Flanagan.

The proposals are based on the report of a State working group, which is expected to be published with the Government plan.

Speaking after the meeting in Donegal, the Taoiseach said: "Minister Byrne joined us with regard to the working group to consider alternative approaches to the possession of drugs for personal use very much moving from a criminal justice led approach to a health led approach in the future. She got approval for that and we’ll do an announcement with minister Flanagan and Harris on August 2 or 3."

It’s understood Government wanted to inform the various stakeholders, including the HSE and the Gardaí, before announcing the plan.

The working group, chaired by Mr Justice Garreth Sheehan, recommended three options for the Government in relation to changing the legal approach to people caught in possession of drugs for their own personal use.

The options were:

  • Expanding minor offences currently included in the Adult Caution Scheme to include possession of drugs for personal use. This scheme is for first time offenders and, in exceptional cases, second time offenders;
  • Multiple adult cautions. This would extend the above scheme to allow for two offences and, in exceptional cases, further ones;
  • Diversion to health services. Gardaí would refer those caught in possession to a health intervention, which they would be obliged to attend. If they don't they could face prosecution. Offenders assessed to be problematic users could be referred to treatment or other services, but that referral would be voluntary. There would be a minimum of three referrals allowed. This scheme would require a garda conditional caution scheme.

It is thought that the Government proposals are a mix of the third and the second options.

Details of the report, which was obtained by the Irish Examiner earlier this week, can be read here.

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