Tuesday, 5 November 2013
Cannabis Regulation: Motion [Private Members]
I commend Deputy Flanagan and the Technical Group on raising the issue and giving the House the opportunity to debate what I believe is an increasingly important issue. I also thank the Technical Group for offering me speaking time this evening as opposed to tomorrow evening, when I am due to travel to a meeting.
In 1996 a book called Rethinking the War on Drugs in Ireland was published by Cork University Press, which is hardly a revolutionary outfit. It was written by a former law lecturer of mine so perhaps I am slightly biased. I found it a rather convincing read and a serious argument was raised by it. In the years since 1996, what serious rethinking of the war on drugs in Ireland has taken place? With the greatest respect to the Government counter-motion tonight, it would appear there has been none.
The war on drugs was declared by none other than Richard Nixon in 1971, when he stated the war would result in a drugs-free world. Now, more than 40 years on, there is a growing movement to declare that war unwinnable, not least because there are now more drug users in every country in the world, and I dare say in every constituency in Ireland. There are 250 million drug users worldwide, according to a UN estimate. Illicit drugs are now the third most valuable industry in the world, behind food and oil, and that industry is estimated to be worth $450 billion dollars per year. All of it is controlled by criminals, whether the activity is in this city, this country, Colombia, the United States, Scariff, Ennistymon, Clarecastle or even Cootehill.
We know drugs are dangerous and the argument must be taken seriously, just as we know alcohol is very dangerous and nicotine is a serious matter. I commend the Minister of State and the Minister, Deputy Reilly, on the initiatives proposed and, importantly, which are being put into action to combat the misuse of alcohol and nicotine in Ireland. Some 7,000 people in Ireland die from smoking-related diseases every year, and these deaths occur despite the fact they are preventable.
The Minister of State has argued that even if drugs are legalised, criminality will not be eradicated. That is true. Even tonight a poitín still was broken up in Deputy Joe O'Reilly's constituency and I have no doubt people are selling illegal cigarettes across the city as we speak. Nevertheless, we are able to control nicotine, including the amount sold and to whom it is sold, by and large. We can get a clear picture of the problem and there is no such clear picture of drug use. We know drug use is increasing, and the chief executive of Merchants Quay Ireland has revealed that the scale of the country's drug problem is increasing. He has stated that the spread of drug use outside Dublin is an ongoing trend, with continued demand for services at regional level.
Some 17 years after the publication of Rethinking the War on Drugs in Ireland, drug use continues to increase in the country. In 2006, the adult caution scheme was introduced, whereby gardaí could grant an adult caution for a list of offences if they believed it to be beneficial. It was proposed that the possession of cannabis - not possession with intent to supply - would be included on the list but it fell off the bottom. Additional offences have been added since in which an adult caution can be issued but possession of cannabis remains excluded. I asked the Minister for Justice and Equality in how many cases the Probation Act was applied to cases of cannabis possession in Ireland, and there appears to be approximately 1,500 cases on average every year. With these people, a file is prepared and a garda shows up in court before the Probation Act is applied. Is that useful for Garda resources in the constituencies around the country? It is not, and I urge the Minister to seriously consider adding possession of cannabis to the adult caution scheme. That should not mean a caution would be always applied but if a Garda believes it to be the best course of action, there should be an option to do so. That was what was originally proposed by the Minister responsible for justice matters as far back as 2006.
A serious body of work has been done by the Government with regard to alcohol abuse and smoking but, regrettably, the counter-motion does not reflect a serious consideration of the drug problem in this country.
A commission should be established of senior policing experts, Revenue officials, doctors and people from the medical world to examine the situation. I agree with the Minister of State, Deputy White, that it is a radical proposal to legalise drugs, especially as we have built ourselves in a "war on drugs" mentality. I urge the Minister to set up a commission of senior gardaí, Revenue officials and senior policing experts worldwide, including the UN ODC and other organisations that work on the issue to examine the effect of such a change. We are now out of kilter with the majority of states in western Europe in terms of how we treat possession of cannabis. It is the case that cannabis is becoming more dangerous because as the Minister of State indicated, the variants which can be profitably grown by criminals in this country are more dangerous than those which used to be imported by other criminals. Criminals do what is most profitable without any concern for what is beneficial. I urge the Minister of State to move beyond the "war" mentality because I fear it is a war which cannot be won towards devising a workable solution to the drugs problem across the State.