Dáil debates

Wednesday, 6 November 2013

Cannabis Regulation: Motion (Resumed) [Private Members]


8:15 pm

Photo of James ReillyJames Reilly (Minister, Department of Health; Dublin North, Fine Gael) | Oireachtas source

I am very pleased to have the opportunity to speak on this motion. I accept fully it is a motion, not a Bill, but there is a Bill in the offing as well. As was quite rightly said, Deputy Flanagan, like every other Member of this House, has every right to raise issues that concern him, and I have absolutely no issue with that.

I do, however, have an issue with his attempt to have the cultivation, sale and possession of cannabis legalised and regulated because there are serious health risks with cannabis, notwithstanding what some people would try to have us believe. There are studies from Sweden and New Zealand showing acute schizi-form illness being precipitated by the use of cannabis. There is a contention on behalf of Deputy Flanagan that there is no demonstrable rise in the incidence of schizophrenia even though there was a rise in the use of cannabis, but the rise in schizophrenia one might expect to be attributed would be only 0.8%, which would be very difficult to demonstrate in an epidemiological study.

Most people who use cannabis smoke it, and I am vehemently opposed to smoking. I know, as does everyone in this House, the damage smoking does, including causing cancer. People inhale this substance quite deeply, usually mixed with tobacco, although that is not to say it is the only mode of use.

Of course, there is a medicinal use for cannabis and proprietary preparations are available. I and the Minister of State, Deputy White, are looking at that with a view to making it available to those who need it from a medicinal point of view. However, the idea of legalising cannabis is not, I am afraid, something we agree with, given there are serious concerns around its impact on health. As Deputy Halligan has just stated, it is also well accepted as a gateway drug to the use of other more seriously damaging drugs.

It has been said cannabis has not been responsible for a single death. While deaths due to cannabis alone are rare, data from the national drugs related death index show that in 2010, the most recent year available, there were 72 deaths where the individual had a positive post-mortem toxicology for cannabis. I am not suggesting that in all of these instances cannabis was the cause of death, not by a long shot, but, clearly, there are question marks. Furthermore, Professor Joseph Harbison recently told the Dublin Coroners Court that doctors at St. James's Hospital had seen cases of young people having strokes following the use of herbal cannabis in the past three years. This phenomenon was linked to the use of high potency cannabis.

With regard to attitudes among the Irish population to cannabis use, we have not recorded any significant public support for changing our current approach to cannabis. For example, the 2010-11 drug prevalence survey found that while most respondents agreed with cannabis use being permitted for medical reasons, which, as the Minister of State, Deputy White, mentioned last night, is the policy direction being pursued at my Department, almost 70% of the respondents disagreed with cannabis use being permitted for recreational purposes. Equally, in the development of our national drug strategy 2009-16, which involved a very comprehensive public consultation process, no evidence of any significant public support for changing cannabis laws was identified.

Any suggestion that the legalisation of cannabis will result in there no longer being an illegal market in cannabis, or that organised crime will simply withdraw from the cannabis market, is to ignore the experience gleaned in the regulation of other legal markets. We need only look at the tobacco industry and the amount of illegal smuggling that goes on, and terrorism and those associated with terrorism in the past have been found to be associated with this particular area of illegal activity. I have a very firm view. I want to see more enforcement. It is an enforcement issue and we need more enforcement-----


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