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As Irish Lawmakers Prepare To Debate Marijuana Bill, Prime Minister Pledges To Examine Drug Decriminalization As Recommended By Citizen Commission



Ahead of a hearing on a bill to legalize marijuana possession in Ireland, a government-appointed citizen commission has released a report formalizing recommendations to stop criminalizing people over drugs—a policy position that the country’s prime minister says holds merit.

About three months after the Citizens’ Assembly on Drugs Use completed their review of Ireland’s drug laws and voted to recommend broad decriminalization and implementing harm reduction programs, the panel’s official report was published on Thursday, and the country’s taoiseach (the equivalent of a prime minister) told lawmakers he will give it “careful consideration”

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar, who met with the citizen assembly’s chair Paul Reid on Thursday to discuss the report and recommendations, weighed in on drug policy reform during a legislative forum at the Dáil Éireann (a chamber of the parliament) on Wednesday.

People Before Profit TD Gino Kenny raised the issue with the Varadkar, stating that the decades-long policy of prohibition has “stigmatized, marginalized and criminalized not only individuals, but communities across the country.”

He said that if the government adopts the citizen commission’s recommendation’s “we can change the course, and we can actually save lives and take people out of the criminal justice system.”

Varadkar replied he agrees that prohibition doesn’t work, as evidenced by prohibition periods in Ireland that created illicit markets with “impure” alcohol products.

“In my view, drug use and misuse by individuals should be seen primarily as a public health issue and not a criminal justice matter,” the taoiseach said. “I certainly think that shaming people and blaming people and criminalizing people isn’t an effective policy.”

The government isn’t obligated to adopt any of the citizen assembly’s recommendations, but Varadkar said that he will take it into account and carefully consider “how we best think that this report can be taken forward.”

Kenny also briefly mentioned a “very simple” marijuana reform bill to end criminalization of possession that he said would be taken up in the Dáil next week.

“We’re asking you to have a look at the bill—it’s very short bill—and to endorse it and let it go to committee stage because this is the test,” he said. “I think the days of lip service are over and the days of saving lives is on.” The top government official did not directly address the marijuana proposal.

Advocates are also encouraging cannabis reform supporters to contact their representatives in the lead-up to next week’s hearing and push them to back the legislation.

The Citizens’ Assembly on Drugs Use considered marijuana legalization as part of its work last year, but a recommendation to enact the reform came up short by one vote.

TD Patrick Costello of the Green Party applauded the release of the panel’s final report on Thursday, calling it a “significant body of work which should guide the immediate changes which can be carried out to improve services and alleviate the impacts of drugs on individuals and communities.”

“There are several recommendations within this report which can be implemented relatively quickly and do not need legislative changes, but it’s a matter for the Government and Minister to no focus on implementing these changes as a matter of urgency,” he said.

Beyond simple drug decriminalization, the report also features recommendations for strengthening treatment and recovery services for people within the criminal justice system and prioritizing research, for example.

Paul Reid, chair of the citizen commission, said the report underscores how Ireland has a “once in a generation opportunity” to fundamentally reform the nation’s drug laws and help people struggling with substance misuse.

The panel’s recommendations “are a strong call of action to the government that the state needs to take a far more comprehensive and coherent approach to drug use in Ireland,” he said.

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Image element courtesy of Ron Cogswell

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