Dáil debates

Wednesday, 6 November 2013

Cannabis Regulation: Motion (Resumed) [Private Members]


7:55 pm

Photo of Joan CollinsJoan Collins (Dublin South Central, People Before Profit Alliance) | Oireachtas source

I welcome the opportunity to debate this complex issue. Although this motion will be voted down, there is a need for ongoing informed debate on the issues. I commend Deputy Flanagan on introducing the motion in the Chamber. The drug problem in society is not just a question of cannabis use. It concerns the estimated 20,000 heroin addicts in the country and the 10,000 people on so-called methadone treatment and the fact there are only 38 detox beds in the country. It concerns the existence of criminal gangs that are terrorising families in working class communities, with threatening demands for payment of so-called debts. We have seen this only too well in my community.

Recently I dealt with a woman who, with her husband, had sold a house in 2007 and had some money. The drug gangs knew about it, pinpointed her and extorted €64,000 from her. That is what is going on in our communities and it must stop. There was the horror story of a dismembered body found on waste ground in west Dublin. That is what this issue is about. A recent statement by Kofi Annan and others from the Global Commission on Drugs Policy which called for new thinking and declared the war on drugs a failure is to be welcomed. In its report of June 2011 it specifically called for experimentation with the legal regulation of drugs, particularly cannabis, to undermine organised crime. Every year billions are spent by state agencies throughout the world in an attempt to contain the supply and use of illegal drugs.

The reality is that the target of eradication and the idea of a drug-free world as espoused by the United Nations in 1961 is now recognised as an impossibility. The global commission argues, correctly, that the bulk of the money should be switched to spending on treatment and education and supporting farmers in countries such as Peru, Colombia and Afghanistan to cultivate food for the world economy rather than the production of drugs. Hundreds of millions are in prison at enormous cost. These are small fry such as addicts, small-time dealers and mules. They are the victims. The big drug lords, protected by huge wealth and their ability to threaten and corrupt, do not worry about prison; they worry about being knocked off by their rivals. We need to reorient policy to treat addicts using those who support their habit by involvement as small-time players in the drug business. This does not mean a liberal or a softly softly approach to organised crime. We need a targeted and sophisticated approach to breaking up the gangs and putting the big players behind bars.

I will give another example from Dublin South-Central. Approximately a year and a half ago the issue was raised in the community, particularly among the community organisations dealing with families and young people involved in drugs. There had been an increase in crime and the manner in which the people concerned were strutting around the area. The community called for a response and the Garda replied. It established Operation Trident which was very successful. Gardaí became involved in the community and infiltrated the gangs. They managed to target at least 20 of those involved in the area. This was made public and was in the newspapers afterwards. It was a very good action which should be repeated throughout the country. We know the people on our streets and in our communities who are using drugs to impoverish others and make money for themselves. The motion raises some of these issues.

I have an open mind on the legalisation of cannabis and other drugs. I have made contact with Dublin CityWide and Addiction Response Crumlin, organisations which provide key services and supports for drug users and their families. While supporting decriminalisation, they do not support legalising it and we must ask why. They do not have the confidence that the drug gangs will be tackled or that the treatment centres and the support needed will be provided. They do not have confidence that enough support will be provided in mental health services or that legalisation would be introduced properly. What they see as key is decriminalisation. Users found with small amounts of drugs should not be criminalised or jailed. They should not have convictions and it should not be on their records. They should be linked with community programmes to assist them, if they wish, to get away from their drug habit and criminal activity.

I support the legalisation of cannabis. As has been pointed out, the reality is 7% of the population use it and this will continue to be the case. This should be seen as part of an overall policy which emphasises treatment, education and a targeted well resourced crackdown on organised crime. The problem cannot be solved in a single country and requires a new international policy to deal with the issue. I welcome the idea of a serious debate on decriminalisation and allowing medical use for those who need it, as it has been proved to be effective. In this regard, I am extremely disappointed with the Government's extremely conservative and lazy response in its amendment which does not even try to address or develop some of the issues raised in the Dáil in the past two days.

International capitalism dictates the price of food, sugar and what poor countries can sell their produce on the markets for to other countries. If this continues, people in these countries will be forced to start producing drugs such as cannabis because they will have no other choice. It will be the only way they can raise money. That is why I am a socialist. There needs to be a planned economy and a planned way of producing goods and food and linking them throughout the world. It jars me when I hear people speak about mental health issues and the effects of drugs. I agree this could be the case, but austerity is causing more grief and mental health issues in our communities than anything related to cannabis use.


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