Changes to laws will help tackle use of drugs

Groups working at the coalface of the drugs problem are to lead calls today and tomorrow, in Dublin and Cork, for the decriminalisation of drug possession.

Changes to laws will help tackle use of drugs

It comes as the Department of Health revealed it had received more than 14,000 submissions in just three weeks in its public consultation in relation to the law around possession of drugs for personal use.

The issue is being examined by a State expert group and, due to the level of public response, the department has extended the deadline for submissions from June 30 to July 13.

The CityWide Drugs Crisis Campaign, an umbrella group of local drug projects, is today holding a conference in Dublin.

The speakers include Anna Quigley of CityWide, homelessness and youth campaigner Fr Peter McVerry, and senators Aodhán Ó Ríordáin and Lynn Ruane.

Journalist Anne Buckley, who made TV documentary My War on Drugs, Gerard Rowe, youth worker with Belong To Drug and Alcohol Service, and Ana Liffey Drug Project’s Marcus Keane are also set to attend.

Speaking ahead of the event, Ms Quigley said that recent figures show there were 12,211 recorded offences for possession of drugs for personal use in Ireland, or some 72% of all drug cases.

“Significant state resources are tied up in dealing with such offences including police time, legal fees, court time and that of the DPP’s Office,” she said.

“Most people would agree that this money and time could be put to better use in providing health and social services to those using drugs and in following up serious criminal gangs who are engaging in violence and intimidation.”

“A change in the law will also be a step in reducing the criminalisation and stigmatisation of our most disadvantaged communities and addressing the serious economic and social issues that lead to the devastating impact of drug use and the drugs trade.”

She said the evidence showed that the current approach of criminalising users did not reduce overall levels of drug use in society.

She said the vast majority of objections to decriminalisation they had come across in communities arose as a result of confusing it with legalisation.

Tomorrow, Ana Liffey Drug Project, along with the London School of Economics and Hot Press will hold a second town hall event on decriminalisation at St Peter’s in Cork at 6.30pm. It follows their first event in Dublin.

Speaking ahead of the event, John Collins, director of the International Drug Policy Unit at LSE said: “A lot of things people think about drugs and drug use are simply not supported by what we know from research.

“For example, people often think that criminalising minor offences like possession ‘sends a clear message’ and discourages people from taking drugs.

“This is simply not the case — in an open society like Ireland, criminalising people who use drugs does not significantly affect rates of drug use. What it does do, however, is further stigmatise people, acting as a barrier to change in their lives.”

Tony Duffin, CEO of Ana Liffey said: “People often instinctively think — ‘drugs are bad and we should ensure that if people have them it should continue to be a criminal offence’. However, this isn’t helpful — it just drives people further away, and makes them feel stigmatised, isolated, and apart.”

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