A politician has called for cannabis coffee shops and social clubs to be allowed under his radical attempt to decriminalise the drug.
Independent TD Luke Ming Flanagan, who has published a Bill to regulate cannabis and allow its sale for medicinal and recreational use, claimed it could save the beleaguered economy 300 million euro a year.
He claimed the drug is much less harmful than tobacco and alcohol, and that allowing its use would help force criminals out of the drugs market.
“To me it’s fairly obvious that there could be financial gains,” Mr Flanagan said.
“To put money back to the most vulnerable in society, helping the less well-off, developing treatments for far more harmful drugs such as heroin and cocaine, to me would be better than putting it back in the hands of criminals.”
He said the Government could reverse harmful cuts to young people’s dole payments and the scrapping of a telephone allowance for the elderly announced in the budget if it adopted his proposed legislation.
“If cannabis is legalised, we can make a shopping list out of the amount of money that legalising it will save this country,” Mr Flanagan said.
“With that money, we can potentially reverse the cuts to the bereavement grant, we could have a reversal in cuts to the telephone allowance, a reversal in the cuts to young people’s dole payments.”
His predicted savings of 300 million euro a year are based on research in Israel, and are expected to be made by unclogging the courts system and generating tax revenue.
The left-wing TD, who has openly admitted to using cannabis but insists he no longer smokes it in Ireland, said he looks forward to lighting up at home if his Bill is passed.
The Cannabis Regulation Bill will be debated and voted on in the Dail on November 6, but is likely to be rejected by TDs at its earliest stage.
Health Minister James Reilly said he was opposed to legislating to decriminalise the drug but said he approves of its use for medicinal purposes.
“I would not be in favour for legalising cannabis because we now know from a number of studies it does cause acute paranoia disorder,” Dr Reilly said.
Mr Flanagan’s Bill aims to decriminalise possession, cultivation and sale of cannabis.
It makes it an offence for a person to sell the drug without a valid wholesale or retail licence.
This licence could be granted to wholesalers, shops, pharmacies, coffee shops and so-called cannabis social clubs.
A licence to establish a cannabis social club could be obtained through a district court and would allow the owner to set up and grow 300 cannabis plants - six plants for 50 people.
The club would operate on a not-for-profit basis, Mr Flanagan said.
Like alcohol or tobacco, the product would be clearly labelled with chemical and dietary information.
Despite his controversial proposals, the Independent TD has received strong backing from medical experts and a former chief constable of Cambridgeshire Police.
Tom Lloyd, who served as a police officer for more than 30 years in the UK and predominantly in London, said regulation is the only way to control use of the drug and to ensure people’s safety.
He described prohibition as “hugely costly, counter-productive and harmful”, and insisted that legalisation would take all the power from dangerous traffickers and dealers, and put it back in the hands of the authorities.
“This Bill is measured, it is even conservative, but it is very practical from a policing perspective,” he said.
“This Bill will be used to police, but it will bring some advantages. The police will be able to engage with young people in a way that will be much more positive.”
Meanwhile, Dr Garrett McGovern, a GP specialising in substance addiction, criticised the lack of statistical data about cannabis available in Ireland.
He said the media had been guilty of “sloppy journalism” in linking use of the drug to different illnesses where there is simply no substantial evidence.
“Deaths related to tobacco are probably, worldwide, greater than any other cause put together and by some distance,” Dr McGovern said.
“I haven’t learned of any direct cannabis deaths or cannabis causing deaths. I can’t think of any case worldwide in all my years treating addiction caused by cannabis.”
Dr McGovern is one of two GPs serving on the board of NORML Ireland, which Mr Flanagan also launched today.
The US-based organisation drove two successful campaigns last year, which resulted in the legalisation of marijuana in Colorado and Washington states.