By Tony Duffin

IN NOVEMBER 2015, a Joint Oireachtas Committee published a report strongly recommending adopting a ‘harm reducing and rehabilitative approach to the possession of small amounts of drugs for personal use’. In July 2017, the new Irish National Drugs Strategy, under action 3.1.35, provided for a Working Group to be set up to “Consider the approaches taken in other jurisdictions to the possession of small quantities of drugs for personal use with a view to making recommendations on policy options to the relevant Minister within 12 months.” This group was established in December 2017 and will report in due course.

In effect, when we talk about a ‘harm reducing and rehabilitative approach to the possession of small amounts of drugs for personal use’, we are talking about what is more commonly called ‘decriminalisation’. Currently, it is a crime to possess drugs – the State’s response to possession for personal use is founded in criminal justice – in the time of police and courts and lawyers, and the attendant costs to the taxpayer. Those advocating for decriminalisation are simply saying that this is not an optimal approach – not that the State should not respond to possession of drugs, but merely that the response should, in line with national policy on drug use, be founded in health and not crime. The evidence supporting such a move is strong, but to people unfamiliar with the issues, decriminalising possession can instinctively seem like a bad idea, so there is work to be done by advocates to explain to people what a health led response to drug use is, what it isn’t and what will happen when, hopefully, Ireland chooses to implement a more empathic and evidenced informed health based response to the possession of drugs for personal use.