Tánaiste Micheál Martin has said he fears legalising cannabis in Ireland because such a move could create the impression that drug-taking is acceptable.
Mr Martin said his attitude towards drugs is to focus on prevention of use and he finds it “crazy” that people are taking drugs while socialising.
He said that people dabbling in drugs is problematic, and they may not realise they are “storing up problems for themselves”.
He said he finds it hard to comprehend the “habitual” use of drugs by young people given there is a “fine line between having a good time and disaster”.
Mr Martin stressed that there is a difference between decriminalisation, which he is in favour of, and “making everything legal”.
In an interview with thein New York, the Tánaiste said medical personnel have informed him that cannabis products are much more potent now and they believe it is a contributing factor in schizophrenia, particularly if people are using cannabis early in their teenage years.
“I’d be very worried if you legalise it. You create a kind of an idea that it's fine,” said Mr Martin. “But I don't think we should criminalise people either; there's a difference between decriminalisation, which I'm in favour of, and making everything legal, but I'm open to the argument.
“I'm open to the debate and that's why I think this Citizens’ Assembly will be interesting and important that we need to hear all sides here."
The Government recently announced the establishment of a Citizens' Assembly on Drugs Use which will be tasked with examining and making recommendations on the legislative, policy, and operational changes the State could make to significantly reduce the harmful impacts of illicit drugs on individuals, families, communities, and wider society.
The assembly will begin its work next month, under the chairmanship of former HSE boss Paul Reid. Letters have been sent out to households across the country inviting members of the public to participate.
Two of Mr Martin's party colleagues, Oireachtas justice committee chairman James Lawless and Dublin North West TD Paul McAuliffe, previously urged the country to accelerate the process of decriminalisation that is already in place.
Mr Martin told the: “If any young person is on drugs, they need help to come off drugs and that's the approach I would take rather than criminalising people.
“We're hearing now about cannabis, for example, the strength of cannabis products now is much higher and stronger than previous products.
“I know from medical people talking about it, they believe it's a contributing cause to schizophrenia, particularly if people engage in cannabis early on in their teenage years. It can be very problematic."
Mr Martin said he has listened to “heartbreaking” stories from parents whose child has taken a drug at a concert and lost their life, which he said is “every parent’s fear”.
He said he is always reluctant to use the phrase “recreational drug use" and said the same was previously said about the smoking ban, adding, “there is no such thing as social smoking”.
He said drug use can lead to addiction, of which there are many forms, and said it “is one of the great burdens on people”, which can “distort” their entire life and cause tremendous trauma to families.
“And that's the prism through which I look at drug-taking and participation in drugs,” he added.
The Tánaiste said his attitude to drugs is “very much on the prevention side” and working with young people on their self-confidence and self-esteem from primary school onward, which he said may help them to be resilient to peer pressure and “not feeling inadequate” if they do not take drugs while in the company of a group of people.