In a landmark report, published today, the committee calls for a harm-reduction structure — similar to that in Portugal — to deal with people caught by gardaí with small quantities of drugs.
While possession of drugs would remain an offence, it would be an ‘administrative’ offence and one, in the main, regulated by health experts.
It would still be up to gardaí to make the decision to divert someone to the health authorities or charge them before the courts — as is the case in Portugal.
The recommendation is a cross-party one and is understood to have the unanimous backing of all committee members.
The report said the committee “strongly recommends” the introduction of what it calls a harm-reduction and rehabilitative approach and that the possession of small amounts of illegal drugs should be dealt with by “a civil and administrative” approach, rather than a criminal justice one. The report will be sent to Justice Minister Frances Fitzgerald and Minister of State Aodhán Ó Ríordáin.
Since his appointment as minister responsible for national drugs strategy last April, Mr Ó Ríordáin has repeatedly said he favours decriminalising the possession of drugs for personal use. The Oireachtas report is the result of an examination of Ireland’s drug laws on the back of a visit by a delegation from the committee to Portugal last May.
Under the Portuguese model, in existence since 2001, people caught by police in possession of small amounts of drugs are referred to a commission for the dissuasion of drug abuse.
The commissions operate under the health ministry and are multi-disciplinary panels, comprising a lawyer, a doctor and a social worker.
They meet the offender in a room, examine the circumstances of the individual and set out a plan, involving education and training, or, if they are problem users, treatment.
A similar system in Ireland would require the creation of a new structure — as well as protocols with the gardaí.
The report said such a model should provide gardaí with more resources to target traffickers and dealers. Two-thirds of drug- related prosecutions by gardaí have consistently been for possession of drugs for personal use.
All but one of the 87 submissions to the committee from the public were in favour of a Portuguese-type model.
Nearly all voluntary and expert groups that addressed the committee in hearings also backed it, although the Irish Hospital Consultants Association expressed some concerns.