Tuesday, 5 November 2013
Cannabis Regulation: Motion [Private Members]
I commend Deputy Luke 'Ming' Flanagan for tabling a Private Members' motion. This is one of the many reasons he got involved in politics and he believes passionately in the need to legalise cannabis to improve the availability of choice for people who wish to use cannabis but also for safety reasons and to have a structured and targeted response to tackling and preventing the addiction problems associated with it.
It is an important debate and one that we need to have. I welcome the fact that we are having it tonight and I hope it continues.
We should decriminalise cannabis as a minimum step and as a first step along the road in this debate. As has been mentioned already, according to the evidence on the decriminalisation of drugs for personal use in Portugal, it has had an impact in reducing addiction levels and the number of drug-related deaths. That is something we should debate, and we should move towards decriminalisation.
The debate on the regulation of cannabis is something for which the public is ready. It is something we should discuss. It would be worthwhile if what came out of this motion was that we could devise a system that would effectively control the strength and distribution of cannabis and provide for education on addiction and misuse, because that is something that we need to address. We need to ensure that if we regulate cannabis, it is regulated in a way that we can control.
If we were having this debate about alcohol and we were looking at regulating alcohol today, we certainly would not regulate it in the way in which its use has evolved in society over the past couple of thousand years. We would have a debate that was different and we would be looking at alcohol in a different way. When we looks at the addiction alcohol causes and the toll of alcohol addiction across society, we can see that we have to be very careful about unintended consequences and the possibility, if we regulate cannabis use, that of opening up a similar addiction problem. There is no doubt that alcohol addiction is causing significant problems across society. I and every family in Ireland have personal experience of alcohol addiction and alcohol abuse and know the havoc that it can wreak. I do not believe that cannabis addiction would be as severe if cannabis was regulated properly from the start, but it is interesting that the 2013 bulletin of the National Advisory Committee on Drugs and Alcohol stated that 9% of recent cannabis users were classified as being dependent on cannabis. That is based on 3% of the population who are regular users, which is quite a low figure, but that could be because of the difficulty in accessing cannabis for use. If we can devise a system that will allow cannabis to be controlled effectively and provide education on the use and misuse of cannabis, the legislation referred to in the motion could be worthwhile. This is something that we need to look at.
As has been outlined already, we also must consider the fact that prohibition has not worked. It never will work. While there is prohibition of cannabis, we have no control over the strength of cannabis that is available on the streets to young people, and that is a serious problem.
I note that recently in Holland there was talk of controlling the strength of cannabis available in the coffee shops so that it would not contain more than 15% tetrahydrocannabinol, THC. If we regulated it here in this country, we could definitely provide for lower concentrations. That is something that would be worth considering as well. We probably have to tackle this issue. We must at least decriminalise cannabis. We should be looking seriously at regulation and control, but in a way that ensures we can get it right.