Community groups at the frontline of the drugs crisis are making a final push in urging a State group to recommend decriminalisation of possession of drugs for personal use.
The move is being made on the back of concerns among pro-decriminalisation organisations that the State group is considering backing a diversion scheme for those caught in possession rather than decriminalisation.
“The National Drugs Strategy sets out our ambition for a health-led response to drug and alcohol use in Ireland and it commits us to developing our responses based on the available evidence — we don’t believe that opting for a diversion programme meets the requirement to be either health-led or evidence based,” said Anna Quigley, director of CityWide, an umbrella body of community drug groups.
The Irish Examiner reported in January that the state working group on alternatives to criminalisation for possession had learned of difficulties in decriminalising possession because of the Irish legal system. It is understood the committee heard that possession needed to remain a criminal offence in order for gardaí to have legal authority to refer people caught in possession to the health services. The group received a three-month extension in December to finalise its recommendations and report.
Ms Quigley said evidence supporting decriminalisation was reflected in recent statements on behalf of UN agencies in relation to repealing laws that criminalise possession.
“The experience of Portugal supports this view, where the most recent data shows that the drug-related death rate in that country is four per million of the population compared to 70 per million in Ireland,” she said.
“Evidence shows decriminalisation does not lead to an increase in drug use and it does not send out a message drugs are harmless.”
CityWide is holding a press conference today and will be joined by the Ana Liffey Drug Project, the National Family Support Network and UISCE (which advocates for drug users), as well as Niamh Eastwood, executive director of British campaign group Release and Independent senator Lynn Ruane.
Aoife Frances of the National Family Support Network said: “Families impacted by drug misuse want their loved ones to access the best possible support they can, to have access to a health response – a nurse, a community drugs worker, a treatment or harm reduction intervention; not a criminal sanction.”