Report backs 'shift' away from criminalising drug possession for personal use

A confidential report on Ireland’s drugs strategy has recommended a “shift” away from criminalising people for possession of drugs for personal use.

The report, written by senior foreign experts, suggested making simple drug possession subject to a Garda caution rather than criminal prosecution.

The panel produced a confidential report, which has been obtained by the Irish Examiner, after conducting a “rapid review” of the National Drugs Strategy 2009-2016.

It interviewed more than 150 people, from government officials to service providers to community workers, and made study visits to projects in Dublin and Cork.

The panel comprised Paul Griffiths, scientific director of the European Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drug Addiction (EMCDDA), Professor John Strang, head of the National Addiction Centre at Kings College London and Nicola Singleton, scientific analyst at the EMCDDA.

It found:

  • Political drive and engagement in the drugs crisis fell away during the strategy;
  • The importance of leadership was “obvious” and highlighted calls for a dedicated minister for drugs;
  • Intimidation and drug debts appeared to be a “particular problem”;
  • Law enforcement should concentrate on drug suppliers and serious organised crime groups;
  • New action was needed in the next drugs strategy on internet drug markets.

It said prioritising the most harmful drug markets and organised crime groups would involve a “shift in drug law offences” towards supply offences attracting large sentences and a relative reduction in possession prosecutions.

It called for an increased focus on diverting those caught for possession away from the courts.

“For individuals arrested for simple possession offences, the impact of a criminal record can be profound and was generally viewed as disproportionate,” it said.

It said a caution was available for juveniles, but wasn’t an option under the Adult Caution Scheme, which, it noted, was under review.

“This would be a good opportunity to try and get simple drug possession included in the offences to which an adult caution may be given. This would effectively provide a non-criminal option for dealing with drug possession offences.”

It said that “if there was appetite to go further along the decriminalisation road”, then some civil process would need to be established, similar to the Portuguese Dissuasion Commissions.

The review said the drugs strategy had made “significant progress” in terms of coordination and services.

But it said the recession had hit resources, weakened co-ordination mechanisms, lessened political engagement, and allowed some partners (housing and education) to disengage. It said many people interviewed viewed recent changes to co-ordination structures “in a fairly negative light”.

Overall, it said the new drugs strategy should have “realistic expectations” and that “implementation and delivery” were crucial.


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