By Roland Sebestyén
After a man pleaded guilty to possessing a very small amount of cannabis last week, campaigners and cannabis advocates have called for drug policy reform in Ireland.
According to the Irish Examiner, Paul Lee, 54, who moved to Ireland years ago to escape his heroin addiction, got caught with a small amount of cannabis which was reportedly worth around €4. He later appeared in court where he pleaded guilty.
The possession of cannabis is illegal in Ireland, however, an individual found guilty of possession for personal use “can escape a criminal conviction if it is their first time before the courts.”
The Journal reports that advocacy groups working in the areas of drug addiction and legal reform say that the current approach does not have any impact on drug users and it creates barriers for the most vulnerable in the society.
Anna Quigley of Citywide Drugs Crisis Campaign told the paper: “If it’s not a criminal offence the first time, but it is a criminal offence the third time, is there any logic in that?
“If you have got an addiction problem, you’ll be using pretty regularly, and the chances of you being caught more than once or twice are quite significant.
“Clearly the people who would benefit most from the current rule are those who are caught once and will never come to the attention of gardaí again, which is good.
“But the vast majority of people who have serious addiction problems are going to be found in possession of drugs, not just three times in their life, but possibly three times in a day.”
She said there was no proof that punishment would deterrent a drug user from future abuses.
Ms Quigley added: “A lot of the people who use our services have mental health issues along with their addiction.
“Many are using drugs to self-medicate, and the drugs can make their problem worse. So The idea that the right response is to criminalise people like that just defies logic.”
Other organisations, such as The Irish Penal Reform Trust, which advocates for reform in the country’s penalty system, say the emphasis should be on the offenders and how the society could prevent them from abusing illicit drugs.
The group’s executive director Fíona Ní Chinnéide told The Journal: “Of course, where harm is caused to another individual, that there needs to be accountability. But the ultimate goal has to be a reduction in re-offending.
“For every person who doesn’t offend again, there’s one fewer victim in the community. But you could still maintain the criminal justice approach to larger players within the industry.”
Mr Lee’s case comes after a new poll has found that almost 40% believed that “cannabis should be legalised for recreational use” in Ireland.