Wednesday, 6 November 2013
Cannabis Regulation: Motion (Resumed) [Private Members]
I would like to thank Deputy Luke 'Ming' Flanagan for providing the opportunity for this debate. I also thank him for choosing to do it by way of a motion and for specifying the situation from his point of view and how he sees it rolling out. It takes political courage to do this. Obviously, he has put together a detailed Bill that will be debated in the future.
Despite the fact that the production, transportation and sale of cannabis remain illegal in most countries around the world, many of those countries and some US states are either changing their laws or considering changing their laws on the issue. I believe it is healthy to have a debate on the issue rather than to bury our heads in the sand and pretend we do not have an issue or problem with which we need to deal. A substantial portion of our population, in the region of 150,000 people, are regular or occasional cannabis users for whom there are serious consequences if they end up with a conviction. This can give arise to issues such as not being able to travel to particular countries or gaining particular types of employment. This is a serious and life-changing issue for some. It is worth considering those who have been adversely affected by cannabis. Often it is not open to them to reveal that they have had adverse reactions, because it is an illegal substance. Therefore, the motion offers the potential to confront an issue they cannot confront currently.
There is no doubt that the war on drugs has been lost. Only a fraction of the drugs available are seized, somewhere in the region of 10%. There is a serious problem of organised crime in this country. Initially, this centred around the drugs industry and Dublin city, but because the problem was not tackled sufficiently aggressively, it is now an issue for every town and city in the country. It is worth asking ourselves and exploring what the result would be if the financial benefit was removed. In recent years we have seen routine seizures of commercial quantities of cannabis produced in grow houses. Usually it is somebody who is poverty stricken who is involved in these grow houses and these are the people who end up being prosecuted, while others end up with the financial gains from this type of activity. These others are the beneficiaries of this illegal trade.
Prohibition in the United States in the 1920s was mentioned both last night and tonight. It did not work. Illegal alcohol that was often dangerous was produced then. Prohibition also allowed the Mafia to gain a stranglehold, one it retains today. It is great to look back with 20:20 vision, but it is difficult to see any positive outcome from prohibition. What we can do is learn from a failed policy that left a dangerous legacy.
Deputy Flanagan has surprised nobody by bringing forward this Private Members' motion and by producing legislation in regard to it. He has put considerable work into producing a Bill that outlines how he believes we should proceed. By putting his motion forward in the manner he has, he has ensured that we open and start the debate. I would welcome an opportunity to explore fully the implications of the Bill, but would like to do so in a calm and considered way over a period of time. His views on the legalisation of cannabis may be more mainstream today than they were some years ago when he first began to raise the subject.
Deputy Flanagan's approach is shared today by people like the chief constable of Durham, Mike Barton, who went considerably further in calling for the decriminalisation of class A drugs. He said prohibition had put billions of pounds into the hands of criminals. He did not deny that drugs do harm, but argued that prohibition does not work. He called for an open debate on the problems caused by drugs. I would like us to have that open debate and for it to be a calm and measured debate. The Home Office responded in the same way to the chief constable's call as the Government has done with the amendment it has tabled on this motion.
I will not encroach on the time of my colleagues, so will finish up now. I would like to acknowledge the contributions made by some of the Members on the other side of the House, by Deputies Dowds, McNamara and Kyne. It is time we allowed an open debate on this issue. The suggestion to provide a period of 12 months to examine and consider the issue would be a better way to approach the debate.