Tuesday, 5 November 2013
Cannabis Regulation: Motion [Private Members]
Ceapaim go bhfuil sé riachtanach agus tábhachtach an díospóireacht a tosnú anois. I acknowledge the work and passion of Deputy Luke 'Ming' Flanagan on this topic. I see it as part of a much wider debate and tonight should be the start of it. We should look at drugs, alcohol, addiction, treatment, prevention, education, health, crime, harm reduction and decriminalising. The legalising aspect is a more complex area. Starting the debate is vital. In 2009, the Latin American commission on drugs and democracy called for the international community to break the taboo. It was echoed in the 2011 global commission on drugs policy calling for an open debate. In 2016, a special session at the United Nations General Assembly will be held on drugs and drug policy. Ireland should be ready for that and part of it involves a systematic, independent objective evaluation of our drugs strategy and the views of people in the country on drugs. I hope tonight is the start of that debate.
The debate must be honest and based on evidence from quality research. When I looked at Deputy Luke 'Ming' Flanagan's Bill, my reaction was that it was innocuous and mild, with a set of guidelines that are stricter than the guidelines for alcohol. It takes the control of the cannabis market out of the hands of criminals and is not leading to a free for all. E-mails tell us 150,000 people use cannabis and we seem to have received e-mails from practically all of them at this point.
The point borne out by research and the drug prevalence survey carried out by the national advisory committee on drugs in 2010 and 2011 is that these people are adult, educated and generally middle class. They are an informed group of people who can make choices and decisions rationally. I can see why there is support for it and, if it was followed in that way, I too could support it. However, I come from a constituency that has suffered from drugs more than any other in Ireland. I cannot divorce what is happening in this Bill from what I see in the constituency. The drug takers in my constituency are a particular cohort - young, male, and early school leavers with poor employment records. Many come from dysfunctional families and are not in a position to make rational and informed decisions about their drugs of choice. My views come from that background and from the fact that I chaired the north inner city drugs task force and the group for the young people's facilities and services fund, which looks at targeted responses to communities most at risk of drug addiction and misuse. My views also come from active involvement in projects working on the ground with those in addiction and their families.
In the inner city, we are seeing a different type of cannabis to the type described by Deputy Luke 'Ming' Flanagan. It is cannabis used by a cohort of those under 18 years. It has a different strength and is being grown in skunk factories. The chemical make-up is completely different to what Deputy Luke 'Ming' Flanagan describes. Projects in the inner-city are seeing the negative impacts of it on the mental health of young people and on their behaviour. I acknowledge that some is being taken in conjunction with alcohol and tablets but the pressure on some of these projects, particularly those working with people under 18 years of age, is to find cannabis detox due to the strength of this drug. Due to its strength, it is a gateway drug to other drugs, tablets and cocaine and heroin. The Bill applies to those over 18 and one of the unintended consequences is that those under 18 years become a further target and we will see increased targeting of them. The citywide drug campaign had a recent conference and posed the question of whether we can take anymore. The answer was "No". There is an active campaign to make the drugs crisis a political and public priority.
The community and voluntary sector are most active with people in addiction and it is seeing considerable costs. I would like to see us examine the decriminalising aspect and to stop using prison as a means to tackle the drug issue. Most drug users do not commit crimes except the crime of possession. That is not to deny the link between crime and cocaine, crystal meth and heroin. The decriminalising debate must follow this debate. In Portugal, it led to a reduction in drug-related deaths with no increase in drug prevalence. Portugal also put more resources into rehab and treatment. Alcohol has devastating effects and its misuse is far more costly than any other drug. The debate on drugs must take that into account. We also need safer injecting rooms and we must take into account the methadone protocol.
Drug abuse began in the inner city. Nobody acknowledged it, addressed it, or addressed the social conditions from which it came. I cannot look at this debate separate from the wider debate having followed in the footsteps of the late Tony Gregory and the work he did. It is the beginning of a debate and I hope it continues in an open way.