Wednesday, 6 November 2013
Cannabis Regulation: Motion (Resumed) [Private Members]
If I was not sure about supporting this legislation, any doubts I might have had have been quashed by listening to the last speaker. I very much welcome this discussion. I fully accept that it is inevitable that cannabis will be legalised in Ireland. That will not happen here tonight because the political establishment lags behind the attitudes of ordinary people on this issue, as on every other one. However it is an important strategic milestone in moving Irish society forward in discussing such issues.
On Monday morning I was stopped by a man on the streets of Dublin who asked what my attitude to Deputy Luke 'Ming' Flanagan's legislation was. When I told him I was supporting it he thanked me and told me how his friend was dying of cancer and he and three of his friends take turns to break the law and secure cannabis for that person. He said, "Imagine, we are risking a prison sentence for showing decent humanity, but it is worth it and I would do it again." It is something anybody here would to. This discussion will highlight the fact to many Irish citizens that there are very important beneficial uses of cannabis in pain relief for arthritis, MS, some cancers etc. Surely we should promote anything medical that can make life easier for people who are suffering. How can that be a bad thing? As the man who stopped me on the street said, "At 63 years of age I should be allowed to make such decisions myself in terms of my life and, in particular, my death and how it is handled."
Let us be clear about this discussion. This Bill is not about introducing cannabis into Ireland. Cannabis is already here. At the last estimate there were more than 250,000 regular users of cannabis, over 7% of the population. They are not just radical young people as outlined by Deputy Mulherin. They are young, old, farmers, housewives, workers etc. Anybody who wants to get cannabis can get it. This Bill is about regulating that situation for two very simple reasons: first, so that cannabis users are not criminalised; second, so that criminals do not profit from it. It is that simple and for those reasons society would be the beneficiary of this legislation being passed.
Over the last few days we have received many e-mails from people who nearly claim that cannabis is the solution to everything, almost with magical powers. I do not believe in magic and I do not believe that. I accept that cannabis is not harmless, that it can cause problems which vary from user to user, as do alcohol, prescription drugs and all other drugs. Criminalising that activity is not a way of dealing with it. This is a health matter and can be dealt with only through the health service. There are no recorded deaths from the use of cannabis alone. Maybe it is a contributing factor. We can make that argument about anything.
I could put forward a very rational argument why sugar, fast foods and soft drinks which contribute to obesity contribute to deaths. Of course they do. The fact that I may personally not be particularly interested in smoking cannabis - or in drinking gin or vodka - does not necessarily mean the activity should be outlawed. The great socialist, Jim Larkin, used to crusade against alcoholism on the basis that it made workers passive and it suited the establishment, and that argument could be put forward about cannabis and other drugs. However, the proper use of drugs can be beneficial to people for both recreational and medical reasons.
Humankind has always operated and worked with drugs. Back to Homer's Odyssey we have always had it. To deny that is a sick joke. Prohibition does not work. The points have been very well highlighted. It creates a black market which is unpoliceable and diverts resources from the rehabilitation and education that could tackle these issues. Points have been well articulated about other jurisdictions moving in the direction of legalisation. The main reason cannabis was decriminalised in Portugal was that incarceration was more expensive than treatment. Deputy Durkan argued that the reason drug abuse dropped in Portugal was that the drug barons were taken out of circulation. Maybe it was possible for the Portuguese police to take the barons out of circulation because they had some time on their hands to deal with them because they did not have to run around arresting young people for using cannabis.
That is one of the essential points put forward by this motion and Bill. Criminalising cannibas is a shocking waste of resources. This could be a source of revenue if it were taxed properly, probably yielding hundreds of millions of euro. It would reduce criminal activity, stigma and the marginalisation of drug users. It would create a safer environment for those who use and purchase recreational drugs and control the quality of the product, which is a difficulty.
Communities have no doubt been devastated by drug use. However, for Government backbenchers who have stood over austerity to blame the poverty and hopelessness that has destroyed these communities on cannabis use is an utter disgrace. This is an opportunity to divert resources into revitalising communities, supporting people in education and rehabilitation, and it would be a very positive step forward.