A conference calling for a debate on drug laws yesterday heard that a man faced a three-month prison term for having cannabis worth just €2.
Homelessness campaigner Fr Peter McVerry said the judge only let the youth off with a suspended sentence because the priest was with him in court and offered to help him.
“It is such a waste of resources,” Fr McVerry told a conference organised by Citywide Drugs Crisis Campaign, a national network of community organisations.
“What we are doing just isn’t working. We need to ask what are the alternatives to deal with the drugs menace?”
Citywide was launching a leaflet calling for a debate on drug laws and arguing the case for the decriminalisation of the possession of drugs.
Chairwoman Anna Quigley said that this issue would have been a divisive one for local communities, but that, within the past five years or so, people were seeing the damage criminalisation had on individual drug users and their families.
“It makes no sense whatsoever to work with drug users, to help them, but at the same time leave them with a criminal conviction for the rest of their lives,” said Ms Quigley. “There’s no logic in that.”
The leaflet said there was “no evidence that decriminalisation increases drug use” and cited the experience in Portugal, where the number of problem drug users has actually fallen.
Ms Quigley said between 25 and 30 countries had implemented some form of decriminalisation, but that legalisation was a more “complex” issue.
Launching the leaflet, Independent senator John Crown said any clinical trial that had such negative results as the “war on drugs”, which he said had run for 50 years, would have been dropped long ago.
“It simply hasn’t worked,” said Prof Crown.
“We need a logical debate. You are not soft on crime or soft on drugs to call for a debate on decriminalisation. It is not the same as liberalisation.”
Fr McVerry said that if a legalisation experiment in Uruguay “produces good results, the door opens” for other countries.
Liam Herrick of the Irish Penal Reform Trust said the justice debate in Ireland had changed and policy-makers were now looking for “less invasive” ways of dealing with crime.
He said that drug offenders accounted for 15% of the prison population.
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