In responding quickly, and apparently decisively, to the ruling, the Government appeared to have shoved the lid back on.
Yes, Health Minister Leo Varadkar said, there was the unfortunate reality that a wide range of drugs — from ecstasy to new synthetic drugs — would be legal to possess for a 48-hour period before emergency legislation was rushed through.
And yes, there was a potential impact on pending cases involving possession of these substances. Mr Varadkar loosely estimated these to be in the “dozens”.
But he repeatedly stressed that the sale and supply of these substanceswas still illegal — citing separate legislation to the one that was partly struck down by the Court of Appeal.
But a more grim picture emerged yesterday, in that pending cases — including major ones — involving the sale and supply of these substances look set to fall like dominoes.
Legal experts, including senior counsel Garnet Orange and constitutional law lecturer Conor O’Mahony, told the Irish Examiner the drugs subsequently added by Government regulation to the 1977 list of controlled substances were not illegal — and that people could not be convicted of selling them.
Garda sources said the DPP had informed them files relating to post-1977 drugs, including supply cases, were being withdrawn. This was unless the person was also charged with supplying drugs in the original 1977 schedule, such as heroin, cocaine, and cannabis.
In addition, Garda HQ has instructed investigating cases and preparing files in relation to these drugs, including for supply, to cease, with the agreement of their superintendent.
“It’s fairly black and white: Any cases pending before the courts or have gone to the DPP and not reached finality involving these drugs, be it possession or possession with intent to supply, have been withdrawn or will be,” a senior source said.
The Irish Examiner is aware of at least four major cases that will be affected. One involves a substantial seizure of ecstasy, a second relates to the seizure of €1m worth of synthetic drugs, and a third involves a substantial haul of sleeping tablets.
In a fourth case, another man was caught with €1m worth of ecstasy, but was also caught with a large amount of cannabis. He will still be prosecuted on the cannabis charge.
“It’s not clear the quantity of cases affected, but there are big cases,” said a source. “When you include current investigation files and files already gone to the DPP, you are talking hundreds [of cases], no doubt.”
The full impact of the ruling will only emerge in time.