Drug reform is an important conversation that is happening in households and social circles, but one that politicians seem afraid to touch. Ireland has a long path to go on drug reform.
It is common sense that the status quo is not working for anyone and we need to say that more. In Irish politics, there is too much of a complacency when something is not working and waiting until crisis point, we should not wait around for that.
Reform is needed across the board whether we are looking at medical cannabis, issues with drug addiction, mental health services, or the outdated 1997 Misuse of Drugs act which does not permit the sale of Cannabidiol with THC (the psycho-active chemical in cannabis ) of levels below 0.3 per cent, the European legal amount.
Same approach leads to same problems
We have been following the same approach for decades that has seen drug consumption increase, addiction issues rising, and empowered dangerous criminals. Hot air around 'doubling-down' on the current policy just does not bear scrutiny, we need a paradigm shift.
Medical cannabis is a simpler and potentially its own conversation. Movement on access to medical cannabis has been very slow but there is a recognition of its positive uses by the Government, with limited access for specific medical conditions and where patients have failed to respond to other treatments. The burden should not be on patients who could be benefiting from access to regulated medical cannabis as they would in other countries. Ireland is behind the EU on this issue and for the sake of patients it must be progressed.
I believe most people in Ireland will support changes if they improve the treatment of those with addictions. More broadly there are fundamental mistakes we assume about addiction, it is more than a chemical addiction, addiction is driven by poor well-being. The State has a responsibility and the potential to invest in people and services, and particularly target people who have addiction issues, to improve their quality of life. We cannot fine, arrest, or jail people out of addiction, if anything that exacerbates the problem and can spread it across generations.
In countries which have matured their approach to addiction and drug use, have introduced wage subsidies for employers to secure employment for those struggling with addiction, introduced microgrants to support entrepreneurship, and recognise the links between access to housing, healthcare, and mental health services with addiction.
'We should be punishing the drug dealer who harasses communities, pushes addiction and blackmails people, not the minimum wage worker having a joint'
Our focus in terms of addressing drug abuse in our society must be harm reduction, holistic support for those with addictions, and decriminalisation of personal possession. This would also allow a focusing of our policing on dangerous drug dealers, related intimidation, drug debt and violent gangs.
Punish the drug dealer, not the user
We know drugs are in our communities, and their impact does vary, but we should be punishing the drug dealer who harasses communities, pushes addiction and blackmails people, not the minimum wage worker having a joint after a 12 hour shift. Our priorities are wrong.
Decriminalisation and regulation of our drug reform laws can cover a broad range of services. The rollout of managed drug consumption centres such as heroin-assisted treatment facilities improves the safety of those with drug addictions, increases their connection to wrap around services and also reduces their relationship with drug dealers as well as lethal, unregulated drugs.
There is also the emerging economic factor. As the regulated cannabis market for both medical and recreational purposes grows, the market is also expanding.
Ireland already has the skilled biopharmaceutical workers who would be able to supply the labour to produce high quality medical mariijuana and derivatives. We could invest in high quality jobs, set a world-class standard for the product as we often do elsewhere, and improve people's well-being. We just need the political will.