Increase in services must accompany relaxed drug laws, group argues

Lord Mayor, Councillor Nial Ring said he was told that decriminalisation would be a “charter for dealers”

A massive investment in services for drug-users must accompany the decriminalisation of drugs for personal use, a coalition of local drug groups says.

The Citywide Drugs Crisis Campaign said the legal change should not be considered by the Government in isolation to all the other issues in those communities most affected by the drugs trade.

Citywide chairwoman, Anna Quigley, was speaking at the launch of a report, ‘Not Criminals’, by the Ana Liffey Drug Project and the London School of Economics Drug Policy Unit. It was launched by Dr Nuno Capaz, of the Commission for the Dissuasion of Drug Addiction, in Lisbon.

These commissions, which operate under the Portuguese ministry of health, provide a health response to people caught by police in possession of drugs for personal use.

Dr Capaz said the “sky didn’t fall in” after Portugal decriminalised the possession of drugs for personal use in 2001. He said decriminalisation involves an administrative response, and not criminal sanctions, to an activity that is still illegal. He said wider issues have to be addressed, such as access to treatment, harm reduction generally, methadone, and finance.

Ms Quigley said a major increase in services, “and not just drug services”, accompanies decriminalisation in Portugal, with a focus on communities most affected by the drugs trade, including improving access to housing and employment.

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Lord Mayor, Councillor Nial Ring, from Dublin’s north inner city, said he was told that decriminalisation would be a “charter for dealers”, as they could tell users “not to worry”, if they were caught. He also expressed concern that the report doesn’t focus on the dangers of drugs.

Report co-author, Marcus Keane, said there is no correlation between a state’s policy towards drugs — either repressive or liberal — and levels of drug use. He said no-one is saying “drug use is a good idea or can’t be harmful”, but that the question is should the response be a health one or a criminal justice one.

Fellow co-author, Dr John Collins, of LSE Drug Policy Unit, said the report is trying to “segment” the drugs market and not treat the consumer in the same way as the seller.

The Department of Health has established an expert group to examine decriminalisation and is due to report before the end of the year.

Officials from both the department of health and justice, as well as senior garda and probation figures, attended yesterday’s launch.

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