Public asked for views as Government considers alternative approach to punishing drug possession

Member of the public are being asked by the Government what alternative approaches should there be for people caught in possession of drugs for personal use.

The public consultation is thought to be one of the first Government undertakings of its type and forms part of a high-level State review.

The online questionnaire is to run until the end of this month, and interested parties can also make a submission to the State Working Group on alternative approaches for personal possession of illegal drugs.

People are asked:

  • Do you agree with the current legal approach and do you believe it: stigmatises drug users; affects their job prospects and travelling opportunities; prevents or reduces drug use;
  • If Ireland removed criminal penalties, would it: increase drug availability; encourage people to seek treatment; make it easier for dealers to go undetected; more experimentation with drugs; save time and resources for gardaí and the courts;
  • What do you think should happen for possession of illegal drugs (listed separately): no action; caution/warning; referral to drug education programme; referral to treatment; on-the-spot fine; increased penalties for repeat offenders; prosecuted.

The working group is chaired by Mr Justice Garrett Sheehan, with representatives of the departments of health and justice, the HSE, the gardaí, the Probation Service, the DPP’s office, two former drug users, and an academic expert. It does not contain any representatives from community or voluntary groups.

The Irish Examiner asked the Department of Health for the names and positions of those on the group, but that information was not available at the time of going to print.

Launching the consultation, drugs strategy minister Catherine Byrne said the Government is committed to supporting a “health-led approach to drug use”. 

Health Minister Simon Harris said this issue is one “we need to reexamine as a country”.


Justice Minister Charlie Flanagan said he is keen to examine measures which would “prevent” people descending into to a life of offending and re-offending.

The working group is due to complete its report by the end of the year.

The working group’s establishment followed a recommendation from the Oireachtas Justice Committee in November 2015 for a harm reduction and rehabilitative approach to possession of small amounts of illegal drugs, similar to Portugal.


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