Tuesday, 5 November 2013
Cannabis Regulation: Motion [Private Members]
I too welcome the opportunity to speak on this motion calling for legislation. It is important that we debate such issues as legalising the use of currently banned substances such as cannabis. It is time that we had a mature debate. I compliment Deputy Luke 'Ming' Flanagan on his introduction of the proposal at this time. In spite of the fact that I told him privately some weeks ago that I am opposed to it, I commend him on bringing it forward for debate.
The proportion of adults who reported using cannabis at some point in their lives increased from 17% in 2002-2003 to 22% in 2006-2007. The proportion of young adults who reported using cannabis in their lifetime also increased, from 24% in 2002-2003 to 29% in 2006-2007. That is a steady increase and we have to sit up and take note of those figures. There is nothing to suggest that the trend has decreased and it is important, as I stated at the outset, that we have a national conversation on this issue.
There is also an extensive international debate about the merits or otherwise of introducing legislation to decriminalise the use of cannabis and we must be mindful of what happens in the European Union and the wider world. With modern technology and modern methods of transportation, we are never too far away from issues. We cannot bury our heads in the sand and, like the ostrich, hope something will go away. It will not. It is a new world in which we live and it is ever more penetrating.
After reviewing some of the research in this area - not extensively, but as a parent - and having spoken to the medical profession, especially those involved in the mental health area, I am unconvinced that legislating for the use of cannabis is right at this point in time. There are significant problems in the mental health area as it is and the system cannot cope. It is a pity the Minister of State at the Department of Health, Deputy Kathleen Lynch, has just left, because she is responsible for that area. The other junior Minister who is here is not covering that area. None the less, there are gaping holes in the mental health services, especially for those in rural areas. I refer to my own area of south Tipperary and the closure of St. Michael's in Clonmel.
From the perspectives of both policing and mental health, on balance, the argument is against making cannabis more readily available at this point in time. Only a few weeks ago, in reference to what my colleague Deputy Boyd Barrett stated earlier, the Dublin Coroner's Court was told by a consultant stroke physician, Professor Joseph Harbison, that doctors at St. James's Hospital had seen five or six cases of young people having strokes following the use of herbal cannabis in the past three years. Professor Harbison stated that the heavy use of high-potency cannabis is putting young people at risk.
The National Drug Advisory and Treatment Centre tells us that although many consider cannabis to be a relatively safe drug, new research shows that long-term users can find it hard to control their use of the drug and may become addicted. Indeed, we have seen that with alcohol.
Smoking cannabis increases the risk of heart disease and cancers such as lung cancer and may also affect fertility. Cannabis use may trigger schizophrenia in vulnerable persons. I referred to the lack of availability of mental health treatment. There is loneliness out there and issues associated with mental health. It is not the right time. There are too many pressures. In a time of already restricted spending on mental health services, I can find no way to justify the legalisation of a substance that already causes grave mental health issues. It is a pity the Government and its predecessor, which I supported, failed to tackle the supermarkets and off-licences for the way they are propagating the sale of alcohol. Obviously, the supermarket lobby has won out over the vintners' lobby. I salute the vast majority of publicans who run their businesses properly, pay their wages, rates and taxes and run good institutions. Recovering alcoholics and young people go into any supermarket to buy a sliced pan and there is alcohol in front of them. It is not being regulated. The Minister of State, Deputy Alex White, agrees with me. I put forward proposals in five budgets that there should be a tax - capping is what it is called now - on cheaply available alcohol. It is everywhere in front of consumers. If something similar were to happen with cannabis, there would be no telling what might happen.