Former garda chief backs decriminalisation of drug use amid State review

A retired garda boss has said it is time to decriminalise the possession of drugs for personal use.

Former assistant commissioner Jack Nolan also said that a debate should commence on the legalisation of drugs.

In a very rare public comment by a former senior garda on drug decriminalisation, Mr Nolan said that while Ireland’s fundamental legislation — the Misuse of Drugs Act 1977 — had many successes, it was “time, now, to look at different options”.

The Department of Health is conducting a public consultation on the issue, to inform a high-level State expert group on possible alternatives to the criminalisation of drug possession.

In an interview in Hot Press, the former Dublin police chief distinguished between decriminalising the substance and decriminalising the person using it.

“There’s no one seeking to decriminalise the actual substance,” he said. “I personally favour the option of decriminalising the person found in possession of smaller amount of drugs.”

He said the establishment of the State Working Group on alternatives was a very positive step.

“There are opportunities in the debate that’s now commencing in this country to decriminalise possession of smaller amounts of drugs, rather than impacting on the life chances of somebody, from an employment or travel perspective,” said Mr Nolan.

He said the world followed the law-enforcement model in dealing with the drugs problem and said it was “certainly required” in relation to dealing, importation, and associated criminality.

“But, the person at the end of the food chain, who suffers on the street, has been somewhat forgotten about,” he said.

Using the criminal court and law-enforcement model for the people unfortunate enough to have become addicted to drugs is probably not the best approach.

Mr Nolan, who retired in April, 2017, said he was bothered, as an officer, at how a criminal conviction that might have happened a long time ago could affect the life chances of a person.

On the wider issue of supply, he said Uruguay and certain US states had legalised supply of cannabis and that Canada had recently passed similar legislation.

“The issue of decriminalising a person is just one small part of a wider health and social issue for Ireland to consider,” he said.

“An emphasis on reducing supply, or controlling supply through a licence or nationalised outlets, is a debate that must commence as well,” Mr Nolan said.

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