Dáil debates

Wednesday, 6 November 2013

Cannabis Regulation: Motion (Resumed) [Private Members]

 

The following motion was moved by Deputy Luke 'Ming' Flanagan on Tuesday, 5 November 2013: That Dáil Éireann calls on the Government to introduce legislation to regulate the cultivation, sale and possession of cannabis and cannabis products in Ireland.

Debate resumed on amendment No. 1: To delete all words after “Dáil Éireann” and substitute the following:“acknowledges that the cultivation, sale and possession of cannabis and cannabis products in Ireland is regulated under the Misuse of Drugs Acts 1977 and 1984; recognises the body of clinical evidence which demonstrates that cannabis misuse is detrimental to health; notes the significant physical and mental health risks associated with long-term or heavy use of cannabis and usage in young people; recognises that legalisation of cannabis, which is known to be a "gateway drug", would potentially lead to increased levels of experimentation with drugs by young people; notes that cannabis is subject to international controls in the 1961 United Nations Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs and the 1971 United Nations Convention on Psychotropic Substances and Ireland is a party to these international conventions; recognises that leniency in cannabis control could endanger the overall international effort against drugs; and supports the Government in its determination to maintain strict legal controls on cannabis and cannabis products in Ireland.” -(Minister of State at the Department of Health, Deputy Alex White).

7:05 pm

Photo of Aengus Ó SnodaighAengus Ó Snodaigh (Dublin South Central, Sinn Fein)
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I welcome the debate on drugs, whether legal or illegal, because society has never fully got to grips with drug abuse and the availability of drugs. I understand the motivation of Deputy Luke 'Ming' Flanagan in tabling the motion and the Bill, but I will not support the motion. I encourage an open and informed debate on drugs. I have encouraged my party to continuously have such a debate; to look again to see whether there is an alternative way to tackle the scourge that is drugs. I do not refer to illegal drugs only because one of the biggest drug scourges in the country is alcohol. People must bear this in mind.

One of the ways I have always measured the debate is by asking why we would legalise another drug in this country when we cannot cope with the legal drugs, namely, alcohol, tobacco and prescription drugs. We have seen the consequences of the use of the legal drugs and also their consequences for society. We cannot cope with the situation and until such time as society gets to grips with drugs – legal and illegal - we should not seek to legalise further drugs.

The constituency I represent is one of the hardest hit in Europe by the illegal drugs scourge but also by legal drugs. It has one of the biggest producers of a legal drug - Guinness. The factory is regulated and operates within the law. Alcohol has been regulated in society for decades and centuries, yet we still see the consequences of its abuse every day in accident and emergency units in hospitals. The abuse of alcohol is also evident in prisons, schools and everywhere in society but, in particular, in those areas which are poorest and most disadvantaged. Drugs do not respect class boundaries and affect people across the spectrum.

I have heard the argument that cannabis, weed or hash, whichever description one uses, is not that bad. It is said it does not affect people that much. Hundreds of thousands of people in society use it or abuse it every day. However, because something is common practice does not make it legal, nor does it make it right. I have some sympathy for the argument in favour of decriminalising cannabis. I understand the consequences for young people who are caught with a few spliffs, which can affect the rest of their lives. However, if we were to use the same argument, one could suggest we should decriminalise joyriding or other activities in which young people engage. The way to tackle those who have been caught on the wrong side of the law for what some would term minor offences is through the introduction of legislation on spent convictions. For someone who at the age of 15, 16 or 20 years got caught up in illegal drug use, there should be a way out for them in the future in order that they are not condemned to suffer the consequences of their mistake forever and a day.

There is another side to illegal drug activities in society. It is for that reason that I caution against any change. People have benefited from a lack of seriousness in tackling drugs in society. There has been the lack of a proper planned approach to drugs in terms of the criminal aspect of it and mental health issues such as self-awareness in schools. The ones who have benefited are the drug dealers. The legalisation of one drug will not prevent them from plying their trade. I have no truck with the argument that the hash-head down the road is okay, that he is only selling hash and does not sell anything else. In my constituency and right across this city those who sell hash are the same people who are bringing guns, heroin and cocaine into the country. Everybody has seen the consequences of that trade for young people who get caught up in violence and intimidation, who are in prison or will end up dead as a consequence of drugs wars or being in debt to a local drug dealer for money owed for weed or cocaine. These are the facts of what happens in communities. We have seen entire communities destroyed as a result.

People say the war on drugs has failed. I do not believe it was ever fully declared by the State. This is an island nation and we could have done a lot more to prevent the importation of cocaine, heroin and hash. We could also have done much more in catching young people at an early age to ensure they did not become dependent on any drug, whether legal or illegal. We could have done a lot more to ensure education was properly focused. Currently, no drugs unit is attached to Kevin Street Garda station, yet it is an area that is one of the hardest hit by the drugs scourge in this city. The problem relates to promotions and a lack of replacement, but there is no drugs unit in the area. During the years there has not been sufficient concentration within the Garda Síochána on drugs units. Neither has there been sufficient concentration by the State on the funding of drugs task forces. For example, once again in the budget, the Government has introduced a 7% cut in the budget for those who are specifically tasked with addressing the problem of illegal and legal drug use. Only a few years ago under a Fianna Fáil Government it was decided that drugs task forces should also deal with the alcohol problem. I do not have a problem with this, but the budget was not increased accordingly and ever since funding for drugs task forces has been cut. One could ask what kind of message that sends to those involved in trying to highlight the dangers of drugs when the Government continuously cuts the funding allocated I urge the Minister at the very least to rethink the 7% cut announced in the budget.

I am concerned about the systematic increase in the potency of cannabis in recent years and, accordingly, the consequences for abusers.

For instance, the proportion of THC, the psychoactive ingredient that gives an individual a high or euphoric feeling, has increased. With hash, it has increased from 3% to nearly 15% in some cases. With weed, it can range from 15% to 40%, which is absolutely scary because there is a consequence to an increase in potency and a decrease in the antipsychotic element, which is the counterbalance. At present, the drugs being sold in Ireland are increasing in potency, with consequent aggression, paranoia, irritability, disturbed sleep, psychological dependency, mental illness, self-harm, suicidal tendencies and, because of dependency, involvement in criminal gangs and the like. I urge Members to continue to debate this subject but also to consider the alternatives to ensure we ramp up the war on drugs, both legal and illegal, in this country.

7:15 pm

Photo of Robert DowdsRobert Dowds (Dublin Mid West, Labour)
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In my remarks on this subject, I really want to dwell on the wider issue rather than just cannabis. In that sense, I welcome the fact there is a motion on drugs being discussed, even if that motion is only on one drug that is deemed relatively minor in terms of the harm it does. I call on the Government to set up a high-powered committee to report within a year on how best to tackle illegal drugs and drug-related crime. I do so because I see every day in many parts of my constituency the considerably negative effects of both legal and illegal drugs. These effects manifest themselves in a number of ways, including antisocial behaviour, intimidation, violence and even death. In one area of my constituency, which overlaps with the neighbouring constituency, there have been 16 murders in the past four years. Many of these deaths, if not most, bear a relationship with drugs, either legal or illegal. Almost as bad is the fact that there have been attempted murders, sometimes with really grim results. For example, in a case made known to me personally, a totally innocent man was shot and left unable to speak or walk. That is why I call for immediate action to examine how best to deal with the wider issue of tackling illegal drugs. They are very much linked to criminality. We are not getting on top of the problem. In conversations I have had with local gardaí, I heard them say that, at most, they seize 10% of drugs that come in illegally. We must recognise that our current approach is not working. The issue of cannabis is a minor aspect of this.

Considering that Ireland is a small country, I am very conscious of the fact that, irrespective of what we do regarding cannabis or other drugs, it would probably be better if we could work out a across-Border agreement on how to deal with drugs. In the meantime, we could learn something from the experience of Portugal. From what I could find out, Portugal seems to tackle not so much those handling small amounts of drugs for personal use but those who engage in supply. In Portugal, drug abuse among those between 13 and 15 since 2001 has fallen from 14.1% to 10%. HIV infection has dropped by 17% and drug trafficking has decreased. The number of drug-related deaths has decreased by approximately one third.

We have a great deal of work to do to tackle the issue generally. I understand that cannabis is very minor matter in this regard. The Government really needs to set up a high-powered committee to report within a year on how best to tackle illegal drugs and drug-related crime. It is the most vulnerable communities with the weakest voice in this Chamber who would benefit most from that. For that reason, I feel it is my duty to speak for them so they will stop suffering in the way they have had to suffer for so long.

Photo of Michelle MulherinMichelle Mulherin (Mayo, Fine Gael)
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The push to legalise cannabis, thanks to social media and the current proponents of legalisation, seems new but it is not. This is, in fact, a tired old story rehashing a case already lost some decades ago. Past generations, particularly during the freewheeling decade of the 1960s in both Europe and the United States, seriously experimented openly with all sorts of so-called mind-expanding drugs, including cannabis. They included people from all walks of society and professionals from all disciplines who, at the time, heralded that drug-embracing era as an advancement for civilization and mankind and as a gateway to enlightenment. However, that lifestyle was ultimately left behind by most and ultimately rejected because youth's urge to rebel is tempered by life experience and reveals the sobering truth about taking drugs. The people to whom I refer are the grandparents of today and they have, in effect, heard it all before. They could tell us things and impart wisdom if only we would listen. Cannabis and the many other drugs remain banned substances in many western countries for very good reason: they are drugs.

In addition to requiring food, drink and clean air, human health requires a healthy mind. Everything else can be considered secondary. Drugs, in particular, are an antidote to ill-health and are prescribed by qualified doctors to aid recovery or ease discomfort for the incurable. The significant compelling body of medical evidence and research shows the misuse of cannabis, especially long-term use, poses a significant risk of heart and lung problems, cancer and serious mental health problems, including paranoia, schizophrenia and depression. Frighteningly, its use from a young age can impair brain development. Therefore, the push to legalise banned substances by proponents outside the medical profession is nothing more than self-indulgence disguised as concern for the ill or the economy. It is this duplicity that makes the case for the drug seem like a product of its influence rather than that of sound judgment.

Mind-bending drugs are just that: mind bending. They impair judgment and, therefore, render the user unfit to make judgments for the reasonable citizens of any serious nation and its governing bodies. However, there is no admission to this by proponents. We do not wish to have our police, doctors, judges or policy-makers under any influence other than that of a sound mind. Who can say precisely what those under the influence are thinking or channelling such that they might be held accountable to the rest of society? We do not want to ride buses, trains or planes driven by drivers or pilots under the influence of anything other than their training and the experience that featured in their job description when they were interviewed for their jobs. Those who wish to see a banned substance legalised on no ground other than its being deemed harmless or the ground that law enforcement has failed to curb the problem are under an influence that the serious sober-minded individual could never possibly understand or subscribe to. It would seem that in the mind-altered state anything is possible.

The main reason the substance in question remains banned is control. I refer to control over how we govern its use, as we do with alcohol and, to a lesser extent, tobacco, and to control by the user. One cannot prescribe the minimum amount for safe use nor control its abuse. Those who take it are under an influence hard or impossible to detect. What that influence becomes when combined with alcohol and other prescribed drugs is unknown.

Older societies, such as that of the Native Americans, restricted drug use to the initiated and its social use was always within prescribed rituals with very specific goals. Its indiscriminate use by individuals was taboo and would have incurred penalties because it was deemed antisocial. Today, the fragmentation of society would make the lifting of the ban on the use of cannabis, which would doubtlessly increase its use, a dangerous social experiment with no means of controlling its abuse by a minority of people who are susceptible to influences that lead them to antisocial behaviour.

As it is, gardaí have their work cut out for them policing the parameters of the legal use of alcohol. Adding drugs to that mix would be irresponsible of any Government, if not down right reckless endangerment of our citizens. I completely oppose the motion before us.

7:25 pm

Photo of Paul ConnaughtonPaul Connaughton (Galway East, Fine Gael)
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I am grateful for the opportunity to speak on this issue and very much welcome this debate. One thing that I find frustrating about Private Member's business is that some people use it as an opportunity to just come into the House and knock proposals, declare an inability to do things and ask whether there is any point in even having a debate.

We must start with the reality of the situation. This drug is available the length and breadth of this country, in every town and village. Not starting with that context would be misleading from the outset. This drug exists, people have access to it and what we want to do about that is the next issue. I have my own concerns regarding this particular proposal and would not support the full legalisation of cannabis. However, to suggest that it is not accessible to people at the moment would be totally wrong. I have no issue whatsoever with legalising cannabis for medical reasons. We have all met people in our clinics who have been told by their GPs that this drug, for medical reasons, could give them much comfort and support. That must be examined further and I believe the Minister of State, Deputy White, mentioned last night that Sativex will eventually come on the market here, which would be very welcome.

We cannot compare cannabis to other illegal drugs like heroin or cocaine. We can lump them in together if we want but that would not reflect the reality of the situation. We must take the proposal at face value, dealing solely with cannabis. There are people in this Chamber who will vote against this motion tonight, a small number of whom are hypocrites. Those same people have no issue with people having two or three pints at night and then driving home. They do not have concerns with alcohol but when it comes to cannabis, they will slap this proposal down straight away and say "No". I am not agreeing with legalising cannabis because of the alcohol situation but we cannot have it both ways. Alcohol is as much a drug as cannabis. There are more families the length and breadth of this country which have been destroyed by the misuse and abuse of alcohol than by illegal drugs. Again, I am not saying we should legalise cannabis for that reason but we cannot be so hypocritical as to suggest that they are not linked in any way.

In two and a half minutes, or even in three hours, it is not possible to discuss this issue in as much detail as it deserves. Tonight should not mark the end of this debate but should be the beginning of it. I am not saying that we should legalise cannabis completely but we must examine all of the options. We cannot keep coming into this House, saying one thing and then going outside and saying something else. We have an issue in this country with alcohol as much as with drugs. Unless we face up to that we cannot have an honest debate about this issue.

Photo of Bernard DurkanBernard Durkan (Kildare North, Fine Gael)
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I must say that I am totally opposed to the proposal. The availability of a particular drug and the fact that it is freely available is not the issue. The question is whether it is good for the person who takes it and whether access should be uncontrolled. Obviously, cannabis has properties which are beneficial to people in pain and so forth, which is recognised. The way to deal with that is by way of prescription and not the way advocated by this motion. It is important to remember that cannabis is habit forming.

I became involved a number of years ago in an examination of the Amsterdam project and the Zurich experiment. I, along with the late Tony Gregory and a number of other Deputies, visited those cities to find out how the liberalisation of certain drugs had worked and quite simply, it did not work. It led to increased abuse. It was uncontrolled abuse and it is intrinsically bad to suggest that such a situation would be better than the one that pertains here at present. Reference was made to Portugal but drug abuse in that country has dropped because the Portuguese police have taken out the drug barons and disrupted the supply chain. That was proven beyond any shadow of doubt.

The gateway aspect of this drug is very dangerous. I do not know whether we realise what we are talking about in this context. If Members are suggesting that young people in the community will be better served by the greater availability of a drug which is a gateway drug, they are wrong and are giving a very bad example. We should not go down that particular road. There is no scientific evidence to support that suggestion. There are only opinions to support it, expressed strongly by some but others have equally strongly-held opinions which differ.

Finally, when prohibition ended in the United States, the use of alcohol increased by 4,000%.

Photo of Eamonn MaloneyEamonn Maloney (Dublin South West, Labour)
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It must be said that we enjoy our drugs in Ireland, be it the national drug - alcohol - or the other drugs mentioned in this debate. Cannabis is probably second on the chart in terms of popularity during this recession. However, back in the days of the Celtic tiger, when the yuppies had lots of money, cocaine replaced other drugs and for a period became the second most popular drug consumed here.

I agree with some of the points that have been made during this debate but we must be careful, as legislators, when dealing with this issue because we must look at it in its totality. I will not be supporting the motion. Recently I attended the launch of a report by the Rape Crisis Centre and also the launch of a report on domestic violence. The point was made at those launches about the effect on children and families of rape and domestic violence. We must change the attitude that suggests that the use of cannabis or cocaine is a very privileged, individual choice and a right worth dying for. I challenge anyone to read either of the aforementioned reports and not have his or her stomach turn over at the effects of alcohol and weed. It is not just a simple matter of saying we can legislate for another drug and then it is up to the individual to make his or her choice. That is a load of rubbish. There are thousands of kids in care tonight because of the national drug and because of cannabis.

In fairness to Members of the current Dáil, attitudes are changing. I have not been here very long but I have heard comments which I find encouraging. I never thought I would hear it here, but I have heard the phrase "alcohol and other drugs" used in this House. Let us grow up about this and say it out straight. I do not know about other Members but I am a user. I enjoy my porter but I do not make a profession of drinking it. As legislators, we must be brave about this issue. We should focus on doing something about the national drug before we bring another monster on board. It is that simple.

While the Minister of State, Deputy White did his best, to our shame, we have done very little to deal with the alcohol problem. A report was published recently on the issue of below-cost selling of alcohol but I will not get into that right now. The other issue of concern is the sponsorship of sporting events and festivals by the alcohol industry. Do we not get it? Why do alcohol companies sponsor sporting events and festivals? They do not do it primarily to promote drink. The principal reason is to give themselves an edge in terms of their image and their brand. They promotes the old paddy-whackery notions like 'what did a few drinks ever do?' and 'he has only had a few pints' and so forth. However, if one reads the recent report on domestic violence, one will see what a few points do to some guys. Some people can control their alcohol consumption. There are men and women who have never been drunk in their lives and who have no ambition to be but we must be honest about this. There are many people who cannot handle alcohol and if Members have any doubts about that, they should look at the reports on rape. As an Irish man, it makes me feel ashamed.

Without going into the details, child abuse in this country is primarily, if not exclusively, related to the national drug, but we cannot deal with it. It is disappointing and, as the Minister of State, Deputy White knows, I disapprove of any alcohol company sponsoring any sporting body. When a child goes to the Aviva or Croke Park stadium, the last thing we want him or her to see is advertising of the national drug.

7:35 pm

Photo of Mary Mitchell O'ConnorMary Mitchell O'Connor (Dún Laoghaire, Fine Gael)
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As a member of the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Health and Children, I am opposed to this ill-thought-out motion. It is unreasonable and, frankly, reckless, as well as dangerous. Cannabis can have a devastating effect on an individual's mental and physical health. I strongly oppose this motion for several reasons. First, the argument that a substance is not addictive is frankly laughable and dopey. Addiction is described as an insatiable craving for a substance that produces a desired result. The use of cannabis produces an effect that is highly addictive.

Second, the health effects of cannabis cannot be ignored. The resulting impacts of recreational use negate the pro arguments for legalising cannabis. Studies have shown that an individual's mental health is particularly vulnerable to cannabis use and its negative effects. For example, research has shown that the number of those suffering from depression doubled and anxiety was five times higher in users than in non-users. In the short term, users may also experience paranoia or hallucinations. Cannabis has been shown to increase the risk of lung cancer, increasing the likelihood by 8% for every year of use. It can increase an individual's heart rate and the likelihood of a stroke. I question the introduction of a motion that would propagate the use of a substance that could only have a negative effect on the health of our society.

As a parent, the negative effects cannabis has on young people cause me great concern. I would never recommend its use to my sons or to any other young person. Cannabis use is highest among people aged 15 to 24 years, which has worrying implications. This is the period when the brain is developing. Young people using cannabis during this vital stage are at risk of cognitive impairment, decreasing academic performance or depression. It would be reckless to give our young people a message that cannabis is harmless. The legislation referred to in the motion would undoubtedly result in an increase in the availability of cannabis in our society. Despite Deputy Luke 'Ming' Flanagan's inclusion of age restrictions, I believe young people would find it easier to access this substance than ever before. Unfortunately, we need only look at the figures for under-age drinking to know that age restrictions are not always effective. I believe provision No. 17, regarding home-cultivated cannabis, is an inadequate measure to prevent young people from accessing cannabis in their homes. The idea that a lockable space will thwart a teenager's curiosity is idealistic and, at best, ludicrous. Children always know where the sweets are kept. Teenagers have all discovered their parent's drinks cabinets.

Photo of Luke FlanaganLuke Flanagan (Roscommon-South Leitrim, Independent)
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Not in my gaff.

Photo of Mary Mitchell O'ConnorMary Mitchell O'Connor (Dún Laoghaire, Fine Gael)
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Legalising cannabis simply comes with far too many significant risk factors. Beyond the blatant health ramifications, any attempt to legalise cannabis may set a dangerous precedent in regard to other restricted substances. I fundamentally oppose making cannabis more readily available in our society. It has no benefits that justify the costs that will accrue.

Photo of Derek KeatingDerek Keating (Dublin Mid West, Fine Gael)
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I am grateful for the opportunity to address this proposal by Deputy Luke ‘Ming’ Flanagan for a cannabis regulation Bill. The opening line of the proposed Bill reveals the true reckless and insidious nature of his proposal. It states that the purpose of the Bill is "to provide for the regulation of cannabis for ... recreational use". I have publicly gone on record with my objection to this reckless motion. Last year I stated in this House that if it were adopted, Ireland would become an even bigger gateway for the importation of illegal drugs, as has been seen over the past two years, during which massive amounts of cannabis, heroin, cocaine and other illicit substances, including tobacco, have been made available by the gangster underworld in every street, community, village, parish, town and city.

The light-touch policy being proposed should be rejected. I am calling on those who proposed this Private Members' motion, as well as those who support it, to think again, to look at the evidence and to consider the points most recently made by Professor Jim Lucey of Trinity College Dublin. He gave unquestionable evidence that cannabis harms the brain. It is one of the most toxic substances available. It rests in the body for up to 90 days, damaging the brain and impairing the capacity of the user. It is evident to me that it is a gateway drug.

As the elected Member for a community blighted by drug barons, including those in the IRA and other such organisations who hide behind their political agenda, I am only too familiar with the facts that have been presented to us in the media. I have seen at first hand many hundreds of individuals with zombie-like personalities walking around in some areas of my constituency. I am sure most if not all other Members have had similar experiences. Colloquial expressions heard in the series "Love/Hate" come to mind, such as "goofing off", or "strung out" individuals waiting for their next fix, contemplating their next crime and considering their next opportunistic attack on society to feed their habit. Deputy Luke ‘Ming’ Flanagan is proposing to make this drug available to beat the drug barons and address the serious crime that goes with illicit drugs. The Deputy is looking too much at his close friend Nidge of "Love/Hate" fame.

Photo of Luke FlanaganLuke Flanagan (Roscommon-South Leitrim, Independent)
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I am going to put him out of business.

Photo of Derek KeatingDerek Keating (Dublin Mid West, Fine Gael)
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Is the Deputy serious or is he smoking cannabis himself?

This Bill must be rejected out of hand by every Member of this House. It should be replaced with a commitment to support those professional and community leaders working at the coalface with drug addicts as young as 12 years of age to educate them against the effects of this substance, as outlined by Professor Lucey of Trinity College Dublin.

What message will this motion send to the ten and 12 year olds whose lives may not have been damaged by drugs? I believe it sends them the message that Ireland today is becoming more tolerant of illegal and dangerous drugs. The Bill also proposes that the Government support the production and retailing of cannabis and cannabis products. I can see it now: "Come to 'Ming' Flanagan's farmers' market - buy one, get one free."

Photo of Mick WallaceMick Wallace (Wexford, Independent)
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Like the local newspaper in the Deputy’s constituency?

Photo of Derek KeatingDerek Keating (Dublin Mid West, Fine Gael)
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On a more serious note, this Private Members' motion is a dangerous proposal when we consider the research carried out by the National University of Ireland showing that up to 8% of children aged ten have used cannabis in the past 12 months. Is Deputy Flanagan serious in his proposals? Who gave him the mandate to represent his constituents with the sole purpose of legalising illicit drugs, adding to the tragedy that already exists throughout every town in this country?

I reject this Private Members' motion. I also reject the hidden agenda of Deputy Luke 'Ming' Flanagan. I call on those opposite of all political persuasions who may be considering supporting this Bill to withdraw their support for it.

Photo of Michael KittMichael Kitt (Galway East, Fianna Fail)
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The next speaking slot is shared by Deputies Clare Daly, Joe Higgins, Catherine Murphy, Joan Collins and John Halligan.

7:45 pm

Photo of Clare DalyClare Daly (Dublin North, Socialist Party)
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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.

Photo of Joe HigginsJoe Higgins (Dublin West, Socialist Party)
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The motion before the Dáil calls for the Government to introduce legislation to regulate the cultivation, sale and possession of cannabis and cannabis products in Ireland. I support that. I welcome Deputy Luke 'Ming' Flanagan's motion and the discussion it is giving rise to. It is not a question of being for cannabis use as a recreational outlet any more than one is for the use of ethyl alcohol or nicotine. It is a matter of realising that drugs have been used by humanity for thousands of years and will continue to be used. Just about every drug can have harmful side effects and consequences especially if over indulged in.

The question for me is what is the most effective means of achieving harm reduction with regard to any drug available in society, legally or illegally, and how best to have a situation where people can appreciate whatever enjoyment or relaxation they get from drugs but minimise the ill effects on people and society. The best way to do this for cannabis is to decriminalise and regulate its production, supply and use.

It is beyond doubt that people suffering from some very difficult diseases can ease their suffering by taking cannabis and it is cruel beyond belief to deny them the right to do that. Cannabis derives from a natural herb. Why, in medicine, should it be banned while multinational pharmaceutical companies make a fortune creating synthetic drugs at huge cost to achieve what a natural product could do?

In a situation where cannabis use was decriminalised totally I would be opposed to its production or supply becoming a source of enrichment by private corporations in particular. There should be a State monopoly on any new drug that would be legalised and regulated in our society. There should be no advertising, simply factual information on the quality and quantity etc. where it would be available, and nothing more. Cannabis should not be an opportunity for profiteering by private corporations.

The biggest drug pushers in this State are pillars of the Irish establishment and carry on their business legally. They push nicotine and, in particular, ethyl alcohol, and the drug pushing companies that do this are feted in society. Ministers regularly rub shoulders with them at sporting events and other events that the alcohol industry sponsors.

I have no doubt that some of the politicians who were in here denouncing the motion also rubbed shoulders with sponsors and went to events sponsored by them. Perhaps they even looked for sponsorship for some of their local clubs. There is a massive hypocrisy in this country with regard to the fact that these drugs, while legal, are extremely dangerous drugs. Yet, people want to come in and criminalise a substantial section of the population that wants to use a different drug of choice that arguably and realistically does or has the potential to do far less damage.

I believe also that the regulation called for would remove these cutthroat gangsters from the scene, their enrichment and the damage they do to society, because they do not discriminate between the likes of cannabis and far more lethal drugs that bring havoc in inner city societies and other parts of the country. These gangsters would be seriously weakened if cannabis was taken from the shadows and reality recognised.

Capitalism and its manifestation of austerity creates huge problems and harm for society. For example, the current crisis all over Europe creates massive suffering, mental, physical and social. Many people seek relief from that suffering in drugs, mostly legal drugs. They over indulge and do themselves huge damage. I believe in this motion and in building a society where there is enough and plenty for every human being, where the pressures brought about by austerity and the financial market system are reduced and eliminated so that people can have decent and free lives. Then, with less pressure on them, they will be in a much better frame of mind to choose what drugs they will or will not use. This would lessen significantly the damage that is being done by all kinds of legal drugs in society at this time.

7:55 pm

Photo of Catherine MurphyCatherine Murphy (Kildare North, Independent)
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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.

Photo of Joan CollinsJoan Collins (Dublin South Central, People Before Profit Alliance)
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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.

8:05 pm

Photo of John HalliganJohn Halligan (Waterford, Independent)
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Some criticism has been levelled at the Technical Group for facilitating Deputy Luke 'Ming' Flanagan in bringing forward this motion. It is not a Bill but a Private Members' motion. There is democracy within the Technical Group which allows every individual to speak his or her mind on any issue in the Dáil. This is not the case in some parties. I refer to the abortion legislation when, because of their conscientious views, some people were forced to leave their parties. I want to make it clear that despite the fact some in the group may not support the motion, Deputy Luke 'Ming' Flanagan has every right to bring it forward.

I welcome this debate which is valuable and worthwhile on the basis that the illegal drugs trade is a massive global industry, with a highly sophisticated international supply chain. According to the United Nations, the illegal drugs trade makes up a staggering 8% of world trade. It is worth more than the combined global market of textiles, clothing, iron and steel. The United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime estimates that the value of the global illicit drug market runs into hundreds of billions. Almost 300 million people worldwide use drugs, including cannabis, marijuana, hashish and THC. This is something we cannot avoid.

I was interested in the contribution made by Deputy Paul Connaughton which was very constructive. The most serious criminal activities in the past decade in Ireland have been terrorism and drugs. While a small tiny minority are now involved in terrorism, drug dealing and drug taking have extended beyond every city in Ireland into every small town and village. This cannot be denied. When this issue came up for debate, I received almost 800 messages on my Facebook page and web page which were running 60% to 40% opposing legalisation. A healthy 40% were in favour of decriminalising and legalisation.

Photo of James ReillyJames Reilly (Minister, Department of Health; Dublin North, Fine Gael)
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Is the Deputy saying the 40% are healthier than the 60%?

Photo of John HalliganJohn Halligan (Waterford, Independent)
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I do not know about that. We could do with more time to debate this issue and perhaps when the Bill is brought before the House, we will have. I refer to a letter I have received which reads as follows:

Dear John,

I am at the end of my tether. I am only fit to throw myself in the river. I honestly need your compassion and co-operation when you read this letter. Please let me explain my position to your good self. My son is a helpless addict who over the past few months has been trying to kick the despicable habit but in the interim myself and my family are at our wits end and are really suffering because of the terrible affliction.
Today I have received a telephone call from a mother whose 25 year old son has been missing since Saturday. Approximately one year ago he took some bad cocaine and suffers from schizophrenia. She is panicking. I hope to meet the family on Friday. These are two ordinary people who have serious problems and it can be replicated throughout the country. They have not commented on whether it should be legalised or decriminalised. They just want something to be done.

I have made a point of speaking to as many people as I can, particularly in the south east, and the vast majority have told me they would be against legalisation. I am not against decriminalising cannabis. Approximately 150,000 people have a criminal record for smoking a joint which prohibits them from leaving the country and this criminal record stays with them. We should, therefore, consider decriminalising it. My problem is that we tend to do things to excess in Ireland.

We must consider the situation with excessive alcohol abuse, particularly among young children, and when I say young, I mean those well below 18 years of age, as well as those over that age who can get it legally. My worry is that if we were to legalise cannabis and make it available, the associated and combined problems of dealing with issues of excess in this country would be catastrophic. For that reason, I cannot support the legalisation aspect of this motion. I would most certainly be prepared to listen to a number of people over the next couple of months, which I plan to do. I have agreed to meet a chief superintendent from the British police, who may actually be in the Visitors Gallery at present. I will telephone him later and I hope to meet him tomorrow to get his view on what happens in Britain. I know the UK is currently considering a big re-think of its drugs policy, which may lead to cannabis and other drugs being legalised in the UK, although I do not know that.

I want to conclude by saying this is a very worthwhile debate and motion. It is something we cannot avoid, given the excessive use of illegal and legal drugs in Ireland. I hope that, at some stage, if Deputy Flanagan introduces his Bill, the Government will allow a lot more time to debate this because it is a worthwhile debate which will be watched by families all over this country.

8:15 pm

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

Photo of Richard Boyd BarrettRichard Boyd Barrett (Dún Laoghaire, People Before Profit Alliance)
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Dream on.

Photo of James ReillyJames Reilly (Minister, Department of Health; Dublin North, Fine Gael)
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-----with a clear view, not clouded by cannabis, I can tell the House.

Photo of Richard Boyd BarrettRichard Boyd Barrett (Dún Laoghaire, People Before Profit Alliance)
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Clouded by neoliberal ideology.

Photo of James ReillyJames Reilly (Minister, Department of Health; Dublin North, Fine Gael)
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With regard to concerns raised regarding the recording of convictions, the question of expunging criminal records is a matter that has already been examined by the House in the context of the Criminal Justice (Spent Convictions) Bill 2012. My colleague, the Minister for Justice and Equality, Deputy Alan Shatter, updated the House on these matters yesterday during parliamentary questions.

I would like to re-emphasise the Government's commitment to the continued implementation of the national drugs strategy to tackle the drugs issue in a comprehensive way. The Government is very focused on ensuring there is an increased emphasis on moving people from drugs treatment to an addiction-free life, where this is achievable. In short, we must present people with opportunities to achieve a life without addiction. I share Deputy Collins' concern about the use and duration of use of methadone in this country. We are examining how to encourage and incentivise people to come off methadone.

Photo of Michael KittMichael Kitt (Galway East, Fianna Fail)
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The last speaking slot will be shared by Deputies Mick Wallace and Luke 'Ming' Flanagan. I call Deputy Wallace.

Photo of Mick WallaceMick Wallace (Wexford, Independent)
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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.

8:25 pm

Photo of Luke FlanaganLuke Flanagan (Roscommon-South Leitrim, Independent)
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I am disappointed that the line Minister with direct responsibility for this issue could not be present. He criticised me for not dealing with the health effects of cannabis use. I am sure he is aware that my speech on this motion is broken into two parts and that I will be delivering the second part - in which I will discuss the issue to which he referred - now. Sadly, the line Minister cannot be bothered to be here. I will, however, send him a YouTube clip.

Photo of James ReillyJames Reilly (Minister, Department of Health; Dublin North, Fine Gael)
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He was present for the first hour.

Photo of Luke FlanaganLuke Flanagan (Roscommon-South Leitrim, Independent)
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Yes, but he criticised me for not dealing with the health effects of using cannabis and now he is not present to hear what I have to say. Those are the facts.

The first thing I want to do is to thank Deputy Dowds and, in particular, Deputy Paul Connaughton, for making what was the bravest statement I have yet heard in respect of this issue. I am in a position to put the motion before the House because I am not in government and will not, therefore, face as much criticism. However, Deputy Connaughton may be obliged to face much criticism. I congratulate him on what he said and I think his voters will thank him for it. I also thank Deputy Keating for showing himself up for what he is. Perhaps the contribution he made will be covered in his local newspaper. If it is, perhaps the Deputy might deliver copies of the newspaper to his constituents in order that they will know he is tough on drugs. There are loads of votes in that.

When commencing the debate on the motion before the House, I indicated my belief that it is no longer radical to talk about legalising cannabis. I also referred to the practical steps that must be taken in order to regulate its use. I now intend to discuss the myths associated with the negative health effects of using cannabis and also the amount of money we could obtain for the State through legalisation.

The first myth I wish to explode is that cannabis produces adult amotivational syndrome. A World Health Organization report produced in 1998 addresses this issue and states that it is doubtful that cannabis use produces a well-defined amotivational syndrome. In addition, a survey on drug prevalence - to which the Minister, Deputy Reilly, referred - conducted by the National Advisory Committee on Drugs and Alcohol in 2010 and 2011 found that lifetime and previous-year rates for cannabis use on the island of Ireland are highest among professionals, senior management and top civil servants. Some people would probably offer the latter as an argument to ban cannabis. The study also revealed that lifetime prevalence rates for usage were highest among those with third level educations. It does not sound as if it is demotivating people.

The claim that cannabis causes cancer has to be the biggest joke of all time. The largest study of its kind unexpectedly concluded that smoking cannabis, even regularly and heavily, does not lead to the development of lung cancer. I have previously quoted studies conducted by Dr. Donald Tashkin which suggested that smoking cannabis is more harmful than smoking tobacco. Dr. Tashkin has changed his mind and, unfortunately, the US Food and Drug Administration, FDA, does not appear to want him to work for it now that he has discovered cannabis is not that harmful. Dr. Tashkin indicated that the findings from the study to which I refer were against expectations. Dr. Tashkin works at the University of California, Los Angeles. This should be good news for the Minister because Dr. Tashkin is a pulmonologist who has studied cannabis for 30 years. He is on record as stating:

We hypothesized that there would be a positive association between marijuana use and lung cancer [logical enough], and that the association would be more positive with heavier use. [...] What we found instead was no association at all, and even a suggestion of some protective effect.
I was also surprised by the findings because I would have argued that smoking cannabis might not be the ideal method of ingestion. As it turns out, however, Dr. Tashkin has changed his mind. I suggest that we invite him to come before the Joint Committee on Health and Children in order that we can debunk the myth that cannabis causes lung cancer for ever. I challenge the Minister to issue such an invitation.

Photo of James ReillyJames Reilly (Minister, Department of Health; Dublin North, Fine Gael)
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We could also invite some other experts to appear.

Photo of Luke FlanaganLuke Flanagan (Roscommon-South Leitrim, Independent)
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Another issue that arises is that, apparently, cannabis blocks up the lungs. If the latter is the case and if smoking cannabis causes lung problems, then perhaps people should use another method of ingestion. Calling for a ban on it on that basis is similar to requesting a ban on spuds. If one chops potatoes up into chips and cooks them, they become unhealthy. The problem is not the substance; rather, it is how it is ingested that might give rise to difficulty.

I wish to debunk another myth, namely, that cannabis supposedly causes brain damage.

Photo of Eric ByrneEric Byrne (Dublin South Central, Labour)
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Absolutely.

Photo of Luke FlanaganLuke Flanagan (Roscommon-South Leitrim, Independent)
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The brain damage argument is based on what is termed the Dr. Heath/Tulane study. As part of this study, rhesus monkeys were strapped into chairs, had gas masks placed over their faces and were given the equivalent of 63 Colombian-strength joints in five minutes, losing no smoke. That one always gets a laugh. After smoking this cannabis, the monkeys ended up with brain damage. What the study remarkably ignores is that the monkeys' brains were in fact damaged by oxygen deprivation and not by cannabis.

Photo of James ReillyJames Reilly (Minister, Department of Health; Dublin North, Fine Gael)
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Did the monkeys get high after all that?

Photo of Eric ByrneEric Byrne (Dublin South Central, Labour)
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Ignore the monkeys and-----

Photo of Luke FlanaganLuke Flanagan (Roscommon-South Leitrim, Independent)
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Deputy Eric Byrne has changed his tune since he begged me for a vote in the Seanad.

Photo of Eric ByrneEric Byrne (Dublin South Central, Labour)
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Get away out of that.

(Interruptions).

Photo of Luke FlanaganLuke Flanagan (Roscommon-South Leitrim, Independent)
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Might I have a bit of order, please? In a subsequent study of 1,318 people carried out over a 15-year period at the highly reputable Johns Hopkins University - the Minister will be familiar with it - in Baltimore, researchers reported no significant differences in cognitive decline between heavy users, light users and non-users of cannabis. This was Johns Hopkins University and not the "Let's-all-have-a-party" university. It is quite reputable, as I am sure the Minister will agree.

Photo of Eric ByrneEric Byrne (Dublin South Central, Labour)
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What is in the water the Deputy is drinking?

Photo of Luke FlanaganLuke Flanagan (Roscommon-South Leitrim, Independent)
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The myth that cannabis is a gateway drug is the one that never seems to go away. We will work on that now.

Photo of James ReillyJames Reilly (Minister, Department of Health; Dublin North, Fine Gael)
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Is the Deputy finished discussing the impact of cannabis on people's health?

Photo of Luke FlanaganLuke Flanagan (Roscommon-South Leitrim, Independent)
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The Institute of Medicine in Washington DC issued a report on various aspects of cannabis, including the so-called gateway theory, in which it stated that there is no conclusive evidence that the drug effects of cannabis are causally linked to the subsequent abuse of other illicit drugs. The Netherlands Institute of Mental Health has stated "As for a possible switch from cannabis to hard drugs, it is clear that the pharmacological properties of cannabis are irrelevant in this respect."

It is also worth noting that in the Netherlands where one can openly purchase cannabis the lifetime usage rate for cocaine is 1.9%, whereas the figure for the United States which until two years ago had some of the most penal sanctions in the world for cannabis use is 16.2%. It seems the Dutch system makes it seven to eight times less likely that one will go on to use an exceptionally destructive drug, namely, cocaine. One would imagine that this was good news.

8:35 pm

Photo of James ReillyJames Reilly (Minister, Department of Health; Dublin North, Fine Gael)
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The Deputy is being highly selective.

Photo of Luke FlanaganLuke Flanagan (Roscommon-South Leitrim, Independent)
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We are told cannabis causes psychosis and schizophrenia. This new argument was produced when all other arguments had been beaten. It is the latest version of what could be described as the "reefer madness" argument. In 2009 a study led by Dr. Martin Frischer of Keele University - perhaps he might be invited before the committee - examined the records of 600,000 patients aged between 16 and 44 years and failed to find any link between cannabis use and these conditions. According to the study, between 1972 and 2002 cannabis use in the United Kingdom increased fourfold among the general population and eighteenfold among those aged under 18 years. Based on the literature supporting a link which is repeatedly cited by opponents of legalisation, one would have to argue that this increase in usage should have been followed by an increase of 29% in the incidence of schizophrenia between 1990 and 2010.

Photo of James ReillyJames Reilly (Minister, Department of Health; Dublin North, Fine Gael)
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That is rubbish.

Photo of Luke FlanaganLuke Flanagan (Roscommon-South Leitrim, Independent)
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What happened during the period in question? Researchers found no increase in the diagnosis of schizophrenia or other psychotic disorders and some of the data even suggested the incidence of these conditions had decreased during the period. In the past two weeks the director of Schizophrenia Ireland, Mr. John Saunders, stated cannabis use did not cause schizophrenia but that he would advise people with schizophrenia to stay away from the substance. I would do likewise, although I would also advise them to stay away from alcohol, Red Bull and a variety of other products. What I would not do is turn them into criminals for using these products. Dr. Frisher's study does not support a scientific causal link between cannabis use and the incidence of psychotic disorders. Its findings are in line with those of other reports which indicate that increases in population cannabis use have not been followed by increases in the incidence of psychotic disorders.

I propose to outline the argument for legalising cannabis for financial reasons. Professor David Nutt who today won the 2013 John Maddox Prize for Standing Up for Science estimates that alcohol use in this country would drop by 25% if cannabis was legalised. As the Minister is aware, the damage caused by alcohol has been estimated to cost the country €3.4 billion every year. Reducing alcohol use would inevitably save money. In addition, legalisation would free 100,000 people with a criminal record to increase their economic activity because they are currently prohibited from working in a decent job. Even if the average increase in the value of economic activity among this group were only €1,000 per annum, it would be worth €100 million to the economy.

It is estimated that 150,000 people in Ireland use cannabis. If users paid 33% tax on their cannabis purchases and average expenditure was €100 per month, it would be worth €60 million to the economy. Moreover, the State would no longer incur the cost to the judicial system and the Garda Síochána of arresting 8,000 people per annum for cannabis possession. A study in Israel estimates that legalising cannabis would be worth $450 million to the Israeli economy. It would not be an exaggeration to argue that legalisation would have a similar benefit here.

I propose that Deputies vote for the motion because the legalisation of cannabis would be a wonderful step for the country.

Amendment put:

The Dáil divided: Tá, 112; Níl, 8.

Tellers: Tá, Deputies Paul Kehoe and Emmet Stagg; Níl, Deputies Luke 'Ming' Flanagan and Mick Wallace.

Níl

Amendment declared carried.

Motion, as amended, put and declared carried.

The Dáil adjourned at 9.20 p.m. until 9.30 a.m. on Thursday, 7 November 2013.