Heroin, cocaine and cannabis possession will be decriminalised in the Republic of Ireland as part of a “radical cultural shift”, the country’s drugs minister has said. Aodhán Ó Ríordáin, the chief of Ireland’s National Drugs Strategy, chose a lecture at the London School of Economics to reveal that specially designated rooms will be made available to drug users in Dublin from next year.
“I am firmly of the view that there needs to be a cultural shift in how we regard substance misuse if we are to break this cycle and make a serious attempt to tackle drug and alcohol addiction,” Mr Ó Ríordáin said on Monday.
He added that compassion had to be brought to the issue, and that as far as possible drug addiction should be removed from the criminal justice system. The move was immediately supported by some.
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The Irish Times reports the move to unblock legislative hurdles surrounding drug use comes in the wake of a leaked report from the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNDOC) indicating it will call for the decriminalisation of consumption of drugs on public health and human rights grounds.
The report was reportedly withdrawn after at least one nation put pressure on the international body to bury the findings of Dr Monica Beg, chief of the HIV/AIDs section of the UNODC in Vienna.
Mr Ó Ríordáin says the heads of a new Misuse of Drugs Bill are being drawn up which will “unblock” the legislative obstacles to opening injection rooms.
The minister hoped the new Bill would be enacted “early next year”. Regulations will follow, which will mean the State’s first injecting room open in the capital. The move was quickly welcomed by some.
Mr Ó Ríordáin said he wanted to remove the “stigma” from drug addiction and the key to this will be preventing, as much as possible, those caught up in addiction ending up with criminal convictions. He added that the “shame” that dominates the discourse around drug use “disrupts the capacity of families and individuals” to seek help.
Though a matter for the next administration, he told The Irish Times there was now a “strong consensus that drugs across the board should be decriminalised”, but that this would be a matter “for the next government”.
Stressing a distinction between legalisation and decriminalisation, he said it would remain a crime to sell, distribute or profit from illicit drugs. But it would not be a crime to be a drug user or addict.
“This will be a wider discussion under the next government but once people get their head around the argument, about what decriminalisation actually means, that policy won’t be about the drug but about the individual. Then regardless of the drug the individual needs an intervention and society will be saying, ‘the substance is illegal, but you are not a criminal for taking it’.”
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