Dáil debates

Tuesday, 5 November 2013

Cannabis Regulation: Motion [Private Members]


8:25 pm

Photo of Luke FlanaganLuke Flanagan (Roscommon-South Leitrim, Independent) | Oireachtas source

I move:

That Dáil Éireann calls on the Government to introduce legislation to regulate the cultivation, sale and possession of cannabis and cannabis products in Ireland.
This motion relates to the legalisation of cannabis and I wish to take this opportunity to thank a few people who helped me in respect of it. I refer to Dr. Cathal Ó Súiliobháin and Mr. Stuart Clark, who are both members of the board of NORML Ireland, Dr. Garrett McGovern, Mr. Patrick Fitzpatrick and all the other people who provided assistance.

When I raised this issue a couple of weeks ago, one of the first things media organisations said was that it is not really that important. I decided to carry out a search of the website of one of the media organisations in questions to discover the number of times it had used the word "cannabis". When I carried out the search, the figure 3,200 appeared on my computer screen. One would imagine that if the issue were not important, then the organisation to which I refer would not mention it that often. In that context, it mentioned the word "troika" on 2,200 occasions. If it is not that important, I would love to know why the organisation's employees are obsessed with writing about it.

I am advocating the control, standardisation, legitimisation and taxation of cannabis. I recognise the fact that it is freely available. Those are not my words but rather those of Deputy Emmet Stagg from the Labour Party. I agree with the Deputy 100%. It is no longer radical to state that cannabis should be legalised. One of the major pointers in this regard is a Gallup poll conducted in the United States of America in the past week which shows that 58% of correspondents stated that they are of the view that cannabis should be legalised. Last year, the figure was 48%. A turning point has been reached in respect of this issue across the globe. A poll conducted by thejournal.ie in the past week shows that more than 80% of those who participated agree that cannabis should be legalised. The percentage in favour of legalisation is not the only remarkable aspect. The other remarkable thing is the number of people - more than 40,000 - who participated in the poll. I found it ironic that some of those who oppose the legalisation of cannabis rubbished this poll on the basis that those who smoke or otherwise use cannabis were more motivated to participate in it. That is interesting because the same individuals claim that those who use cannabis suffer from motivation problems. This is strange because if those tho whom I refer are actually correct, then the figure would be higher than 80%.

When one scans the websites of The Irish Times, the Irish Independent and thejournal.ie for articles on this subject, one will discover that the people of Ireland are actually ready for legalisation. I would not be that confident that the Members of Dáil Éireann are ready for it but then again it would not be the first time we might be somewhat slow to realise what the public wants. The websites of the three publications to which I refer contain more than 1,000 comments on this matter and - from my reading of it - fewer than 50 of those who posted are opposed to legalisation. We are faced with a situation where an issue is still being described as being radical by many people in Dáil Éireann at a time when the majority of the public appears to be on board with what is being suggested.

The matter does not end there. All one need do is visit Deputy Carey's Facebook page in order to discover that this is the case. Great credit is due to the Deputy because he asked people what they think of the Bill I have drafted. He could have left the matter alone or avoided asking the question but he did not do so. I congratulate him on that. I wonder if the Deputy was surprised by the reaction he received. As has been the case for the past two weeks, I was surprised. I was expecting to be politically beaten up at home as a result of what I am doing because I was of the view that it would not be that popular. My view, however, was so be it. I am increasing the number of likes on Deputy Carey's Facebook page as the seconds go by. If Members visit the page, they will discover that 230 comments have been made. The majority of these show that those who made them are in favour of legalising cannabis. Deputy Carey has informed his Facebook followers that he will listen. I hope he will do so.

NORML Ireland, which was launched this week in Buswells Hotel, is further proof that this debate is going mainstream. Two of the members of the board of NORML Ireland are practising GPs who have many years experience in the field of addiction treatment. Another member of the board is journalist Stuart Clark, who does not use cannabis and who has no interest in it. Even further proof that the debate is going mainstream is that Tom Lloyd, the former head of Cambridgeshire police force, has travelled to Ireland twice in the past week in order to support what is being done. However, I was a little surprised when he described me on my local radio station as being a little conservative for his liking. This man spent his entire life trying to prevent people from obtaining cannabis and other illegal substances. At this stage, the penny has dropped. The current system does not work. Mr. Lloyd, who operates in this area and who was employed by Scotland Yard for several years, accepts that it does not work.

If ever anyone wanted proof that talk of legalisation is not radical, they should listen to what I am about to say. The Labour Party discussed whether to decriminalise or legalise cannabis at its annual convention in November 2007 but referred the matter to its national executive for further discussion. Putting cannabis on the party agenda was the handiwork of the party Whip, Deputy Stagg, who has long been a proponent of legalisation. The article on this matter to which I am referring states:

Ireland has some of the highest cannabis use rates in Europe, Stagg noted. He does not wish to encourage cannabis use, he said; only to regularize a drug that is readily available across the country. Leaving the weed illegal creates criminality and drives young people into the hands of drug dealers, he said.
I could not agree with Deputy Stagg more. He also stated, "I'm advocating its control, standardization, legitimization and taxation." It gets better. The article goes on to state:
But after contentious debate, the party voted to defer a decision [kicking the can down the road again, something it is good at] on adopting legalization or decriminalization as part of the platform. By a narrow margin, and following the lead of former party leader Pat Rabbitte [I am looking forward to hearing what he has to say about this matter], delegates voted to refer the matter to the National Executive for further discussion. While [Deputy] Rabbitte urged caution at the conference, he did say that policymakers need to be thinking outside the box when it comes to cannabis.
Deputy Rabbitte will be pleased, no doubt, that I have brought forward this motion and perhaps he will participate in the debate on it.

If more proof were needed that it is not radical to suggest that cannabis be legalised, it can be found in the USA. The latter is a country the Taoiseach, Deputy Enda Kenny loves - he thinks it is wonderful and posteriors are regularly kissed when he visits the place - so obviously he would agree with some of its policies. In the past year, cannabis has been legalised in the states of Colorado and Washington. Imagine that, Washington in the US of A. We will be expecting the Taoiseach to follow suit any time, particularly as he always thinks the Americans are right. The amazing aspect of the legalisation of cannabis in Colorado and Washington relates to the fact that it was not followed up by any sanctions from the federal Government. I had expected such sanctions to be forthcoming, as had people in Colorado and Washington. However, they did not materialise. This is because the penny has also dropped with Barack Obama. I find it bizarre that it took so long for Mr. Obama to reach this realisation, particularly as he has been quite open about the fact that he regularly used cannabis when he was younger. Things have changed and several other states are set to follow the example of Colorado and Washington. In fact, a plebiscite is being held in Portland, Oregon, in respect of the legalisation of cannabis in that city. God forbid the Government here would have confidence in members of the general public to make decisions of that nature for themselves. It is a pity that is the case because I am of the view that they already have made the decision in respect of this matter.

Uruguay has legalised cannabis and many south and central American countries, including Mexico, are examining the possibility of doing likewise. Uruguay would not have taken this course of action were it not for the previous decision of the United States. We must remember that the US is the nation with the biggest guns, drones and whatever else one uses to hit others. When the United States of America, which wields the biggest stick, decided it was all right to decriminalise cannabis Uruguay believed it was okay to follow suit. Uruguay would have taken the decision sooner if the United States had gone down the road of decriminalisation earlier.

As regards Europe, Deputies will be aware that cannabis has been decriminalised in the Netherlands. In the past week, however, comments made by senior Dutch politicians point towards outright legalisation. The position that obtains in the Netherlands is not clear to many people in this country because the Irish media, which are made up of a wonderful group of people, reported about a year ago that the country was about to ban foreigners from its coffee shops and require people to join clubs if they wished to have access to cannabis. Despite widely reporting that proposal, the media did not report widely on the decision by the Dutch not to implement it. To this day, people ask me how we could legalise cannabis when the Dutch are backtracking on the issue. People should check the facts because the Netherlands is doing anything but backtracking.

Does Australia impose the same type of penal sanctions for cannabis use as we do? Cannabis in small amounts has been decriminalised for personal use in the Australian Capital Territory, South Australia, Western Australia and the Northern Territory.

In Belgium, the possession and cultivation of small quantities of cannabis, namely, 3g or one female plant, are tolerated, although they remain illegal. A similar position pertains in the Czech Republic, although the amounts involved are higher - possession of 15g of cannabis or the cultivation of up to five plants are now considered only misdemeanours.

The Germans are the most hard-working people in Europe, or so they keep telling us. The amount of cannabis one can possess for personal use varies in Germany, depending on the state, with Berlin being the most accommodating, at 15g. The German economy is doing well and the country's citizens have not become apathetic or demotivated - quite the opposite.

In Barcelona, one can join a cannabis social club whose members may legally purchase cannabis on a not-for-profit basis.

In light of these facts, it is not radical to suggest we should legalise cannabis. That 58% of people in the United States want to legalise the substance suggests legalisation is a slightly conservative proposal, one which would go down well with members of the Fine Gael Party.

What should we do? The Government needs to regulate and the purpose of the motion is to ask it to do so. If it refuses to regulate, I will introduce First Stage of the cannabis regulation Bill on Thursday and we will start all over again. The purpose of the Bill would be to provide for the regulation of cannabis for recreational and medicinal use and the establishment by the Minister for Justice and Equality, Deputy Alan Shatter, of a cannabis regulation authority. Bad as the Minister is, it definitely would be better to have him administering the system than John Gilligan. The role of the authority would be to regulate the cultivation, sale, labelling, advertising and marketing of cannabis. It would also provide for a licensing system for commercial, home and cannabis social club cultivation under its control.

The Minister would establish a cannabis research institute to conduct or commission research in respect of cannabis and educate members of the public on the effects of cannabis. The Bill would allow for the provision of a licence for home cultivation, with the maximum allowable number of plants set at six female plants. Personal possession of up to one ounce or 28.35g would be allowed in the case of an individual who does not possess a grower's licence. Given the dominance of the European Union, the Government would probably shoot down that proposal on the basis that I have used imperial measurements. I would be happy, however, if it opted for the metric measurement.

The Bill would introduce the cannabis social club model under which clubs would supply their members with cannabis on a not-for-profit basis in a community setting. In other words, a grower would be able to produce cannabis for up to 50 people and grow up to 300 plants. Some people may ask why people would not grow their own cannabis plants. Alcohol is not difficult to brew but people still do not want to brew it because they like convenience. Under the Bill, licences granted for the sale of cannabis would include wholesale, retail store, medicinal retail, coffee shop and social club licences.

Children would not be allowed on premises associated with cannabis and it would remain an offence for children to possess the substance. This raises an important issue. I am no longer discussing whether cannabis should be legalised because this debate has moved on to how we would legalise it. In that context, many people have asked me whether it is a good idea to criminalise children. This question needs to be examined.

Under my Bill, advertising rules would be stricter than those which currently apply to alcohol advertising and would be strictly prohibited in the area of sport. This is consistent with my view on the advertising of any mind altering substances, including alcohol and caffeine, in the area of sport.

The legislation would require the Minister for Justice and Equality to assess the agricultural benefits of the use of hemp. The Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine could do likewise. The suit I am wearing is made from hemp, a substance we could grow and around which we could develop an industry.

Under the Bill, the cannabis regulation authority would be accountable to Dáil select committees. Let us compare that proposal with the current position. To whom are John Gilligan or the "Love/Hate" character, Nidge, responsible? They are certainly not accountable to select committees.

Over the next two days of debate, I look forward to hearing the views of other Deputies, especially those who have admitted to using cannabis. It will be interesting to learn if they believe they should have a criminal record given the dire consequences acquiring a criminal record has for individuals. More than 100,000 people convicted of possession of cannabis are denied the right to a decent job because their application will be rejected if they fill it out truthfully. This means they cannot become teachers, doctors or child care workers.

I have a warning for those who believe it is all right to impose a criminal record for using cannabis, while not having one imposed on themselves. After this debate, I will contact the Garda Síochána to inform it of the past actions of particular Deputies. I ask them to think carefully before criminalising others.


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