By Roland Sebestyén
Cannabis advocates claim the Irish cannabis reform is happening way too slow, even though some change regarding medicinal cannabis might be considered a step in the right direction. The stigmatisation of the drug is still damaging the work of those organisations fighting for a more accessible cannabis market.
Volteface, after having launched the European Cannabis Advocacy Network (ECAN), has talked to Irish experts to gain insight into the country’s approach to the drug.
According to The Misuse of Drugs Act 1977, cannabis is a controlled drug, and products are prohibited to any THC; essentially, the THC limit is 0%.
While there is currently an ongoing pilot scheme as to medicinal use, the drug is still not available through private prescription. This means that accessing the drug is difficult, which drives the patients to buy cannabis off the black market.
Natalie O’Regan, a Law graduate from the University of Cork, said: “Regarding medicinal cannabis, I think that the qualifying illness needs to be expanded, as currently, it is extremely limited.
“This will reflect the leading evidence that medicinal cannabis can improve the quality of life for people who suffer from a range of illnesses.
“Further on this point, medicinal cannabis needs to be incorporated in the medical card scheme that will relieve the financial pressure that many patients may have.”
The Irish cannabis control is as strict as in the US. After the third offence, the culprit could be given prison time. However, the experience is that people who commit low-level cannabis offences are hardly being sent behind bars.
Nicole, Founder of the Cork Cannabis Activist Network (CCAN), said: “The system here is basically a mess.
“People are being criminalised for being caught with joints, or tiny amounts of cannabis, as well as for growing cannabis and possessing it in larger quantities, even if it’s for personal use.
“I constantly have people getting in touch saying they’ve been caught with cannabis and are going to be summoned to court, and they are terrified.
“All of these people are decent, law-abiding citizens who have caused no harm and are now facing the very real chance that this conviction will affect them for the rest of their lives.”
According to the official Central Statistics Office (CSO) 2019 figures, approximately 70% of drug offences were for personal possession in Ireland.
Nicole from CCAN said although cannabis advocacies have been regularly putting pressure on the Irish government to legalise the drug, they reportedly have no plans to change their policy.
One possible solution to this puzzle could be more intensive education about cannabis, its health, and its economical benefits.
However, Ms O’Regan added that the stigmatisation of cannabis is something that is clearly in the way of further cannabis reforms in the country, and the government needs to step up as the global market won’t wait for Ireland.
She said: “The importance of cannabis reform cannot be underestimated in Ireland. We are slowly falling behind in our efforts in comparison to the rest of the developed world.
“All evidence suggests that prohibition and criminalisation do not work, but Ireland is still hanging onto the coattails of the failed war on drugs.
“The latest Irish drug strategy discussed above claims to be a health led approach to drug use, but upon examining the strategy, I can see that this claim is not substantiated.”