More than 50 drug workers say they are “seriously concerned” at expected Government proposals to keep possession of drugs for personal use a criminal offence.
While they welcomed the expected diversion of people caught with drugs for their own use to health services, they criticised reports that the Government was stopping short of changing the law because it was “too complicated” to do so.
Government proposals have been due before the Cabinet over recent weeks but have not yet been presented, and the issue is not, as it stands, on the agenda of Wednesday's penultimate Cabinet meeting.
If the plans are not put forward for sign off at the final meeting, set for next Thursday in Donegal, the matter will not be agreed upon until the resumption of the Oireachtas in September.
The Irish Examiner reported last February that the State expert group set up to examine alternatives to criminalisation was favouring a diversion type system, whereby, while still illegal, people caught in possession by the gardaí would be referred for a health intervention.
We reported last week that the Gardaí and the DPP were examining extending the Adult Caution Scheme to include drug possession. While maintaining the illegality of the offence, people would receive a caution rather than face criminal prosecution, and possible, record.
Garda HQ said it was working on the implementation of such a system “following the recommendation" of a Government working group on alternative sanctions for drug possession.
In an open letter to Taoiseach Leo Varadkar, 54 members of community drug projects or task force representatives or local activists called on him to remove criminalisation.
The letter said they understood that a memo was due before the Cabinet shortly and that while a system of diversion to health services was “very welcome” they were concerned that it will recommend maintaining the criminal status of possession of drugs for personal use.
The letter was issued through the Citywide Drugs Crisis Campaign on behalf of the 50-plus activists and community projects.
It said indications were that the working group would affirm the benefits of diverting people who use drugs away from the justice system to the health system.
It said that the public consultation carried out by the working group showed that the “vast majority” of people believed that criminalising drug use did not prevent or reduce it, which it said was supported by international evidence.
“In this context, we are now seriously concerned at the indications that the working group is saying that while it recommends implementing a diversion approach, this should only be done if at the same time we maintain criminal status for possession of drug use and maintain the right to impose potential criminal sanctions on people who use drugs,” it said.
While welcoming the work of members of the group, the writers said they believed the recommendation was “both contradictory and lacking in logic”.
The letter said: “It appears to say that we need to maintain criminalisation in order to implement a health-led approach, on the basis that the legal changes required to decriminalise possession for personal use would be too complicated.”