Dáil debates

Wednesday, 6 November 2013

Cannabis Regulation: Motion (Resumed) [Private Members]


8:15 pm

Photo of Mick WallaceMick Wallace (Wexford, Independent) | Oireachtas source

The argument has changed on cannabis regulation. Ecuador has decriminalised the drug and Uruguay has recently become the first country to introduce a legal, regulated market for cannabis, with a focus on putting drug traffickers out of business. In the US, Colorado and Washington State have voted to legalise recreational cannabis use. In August, the New York City Comptroller's office recommended cannabis legislation upon finding that taxing and regulating the substance would generate revenue of $400 million annually and would have even more significant social justice benefits. To quote the comptroller:

Regulating marijuana will keep thousands of New Yorkers out of the criminal justice system, offer relief to those suffering from a wide range of painful medical conditions, and make our streets safer by sapping the dangerous underground market that targets our children. As if that weren't enough, it would also boost our bottom line.
On the basis of this movement, one would be impelled to ask why the change of approach, especially in the case of the US, which has invested more money, time and resources than anyone else on the so-called war on drugs. The reasons for this shift are manifold and obvious to those with the capacity to look objectively at the issue. The first and most influential reason that a government would legalise and regulate cannabis use is that the war on drugs does not work but is, in fact, an ongoing public demonstration of how to clog up the legal system and prisons, wreck the lives of individuals, families and communities and waste taxpayers' money and police energies that would be better spent working with and for society, rather than against it.

In light of recent scientific research, the current classification of cannabis as a class B drug makes no sense, that is, if we take for granted the common definition for illegal drugs, namely, that they have no accepted medical use and a high potential for abuse. A 2007 paper published in the prestigious peer-reviewed medical journal, The Lancet, with the collaboration of the UK Cabinet Office Strategic Unit, produced a systematic ranking system for 20 substances. The findings are interesting. Alcohol ranked as the fifth most dangerous and damaging drug, tobacco was the ninth and cannabis ranked 11th - to think that alcohol abuse in Ireland is costing the State over €3.5 billion a year. In light of these findings, the classification of cannabis as a class B drug, while the much more damaging alcohol and tobacco are legally available to the public, is contradictory at the least and one more reason for the serious disconnect between politicians and the people who put them in power.

For centuries it has been known that cannabis has medicinal properties. Hundreds of journal articles were written between the 1840s and 1930s extolling the benefits of cannabis use on nervous and convulsive disorder, for example.

Since the drug was made illegal in the US in the 1930s, the research has been skewed towards investigating the negative effects of the substance rather than its benefits.

Recently, there has been much media coverage of a particular argument surrounding the use of cannabis to the effect that there is a direct link between cannabis psychosis and schizophrenia. The truth is that there is no consensus on this matter. A report on the emerging evidence surrounding cannabis research, co-authored by representatives of KCA UK, the National Drug Research Institute of Australia and the National Addiction Centre in London, indicates that "The best available evidence from the existing range of prospective epidemiological studies indicates that cannabis can precipitate schizophrenia in people who are already vulnerable for individual or family reasons", and that "the relationship between cannabis and anxiety is likely to be the result of other mediating factors such as childhood and family factors." Any claim that there is a causal link between cannabis use and the creation of mental health conditions does not take account of the available evidence. That evidence indicates that increased rates of cannabis use in the past 30 years have not been accompanied by a corresponding increase in rates of psychosis in the population.

If the Government were seriously concerned about mental health, it would bring its austerity programme to an end. That programme is contributing to and exacerbating the problem of inequality in Ireland. According to a recent Oxfam report, the rate of inequality in Ireland is currently four times the OECD average. Mind, the National Association for Mental Health in the UK, has highlighted the idea that good mental health is not something you have but something you do, and that in order to be mentally healthy, you must value and accept yourself. This is obviously difficult to accomplish in our current unequal society. Recent World Health Organization surveys conducted in 12 OECD countries show that in rich countries there is a direct association between income inequality and the proportion of adults who have been mentally ill. In light of these findings, it can be difficult to listen to those on the Government benches who claim that they really care about those who are experiencing mental illness.

Legislation would replace a criminal market with a system in which supply would be controlled, products regulated and profits taxed. This would be safer for children, because parents would have greater control than they do at present; safer for users, because drugs could be tested; and safer for society, because funding for the criminal gangs that cause untold damage would be cut off. A great deal of money is spent every year enforcing the prohibition on marijuana and arresting people for possessing small amounts of the substance. Against this background, we are obliged to debate further cuts to social services for the disabled, single parents and the most vulnerable in society. The drugs war has been an abysmal failure. We need a drug policy that is patient-centred and fiscally responsible. The Government must engage in an honest examination of the facts. It must put people first and should stop misleading the public.


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