Recreational cannabis users must not be treated as criminals, a leading social campaigner said today.
Fr Peter McVerry said users of the illegal drug should not be targeted for prosecution.
He told a conference on addiction and young people a clearer distinction must be made between class A drug abuse and recreational use of cannabis.
“There needs to be a difference in our response to those using a smaller amount of cannabis for recreational use to help you get to sleep and using drugs such as heroin or cocaine that are extremely harmful to yourself and can cause harm to others,” he said.
“The criminal justice system should not focus on prosecuting somebody for having some cannabis.
“There is a need to target the response appropriately and respond equally.”
Stephen Rowan, head of ATI Training and Education Addiction Department, said drugs were a feature of life for young people across the country.
“The problem is younger people are starting to experiment with drugs,” said Mr Rowan, a former director of the Rutland drug treatment centre.
“Cocaine is spreading like wildfire and this is a huge concern for rural Ireland”.
Fr McVerry, who has worked with Dublin’s young homeless for over 30 years, said good family communication was key to tackling drug problems.
“From the day the child is born it is important that communication is there so that if problems with drugs arise, the parents can listen to their daughter or son.”
The Addiction, Young People and Family conference was organised by addiction studies institute ATI Training and Education and opened by Drugs Strategy Minister John Curran.