The Future of Drug Policy in Ireland
Here at H&G, we are big fans of social change and :ahem: drugs. We have talked to Ciara Sherlock before about responsible use of psychedelics, and about the Psychedelic Society of Ireland of which she is a founding and prominent member. She seemed like the most appropriate person to talk to about the possibility of drug decriminalisation in Ireland. Not to mention that she’s more than a little bit deadly.
What do you think about the potential future of drug decriminalisation in an Ireland? Do you think it is something that could work?
I’ve been interested in this subject for many years now and the simple answer is yes – I think drugs should be decriminalised in Ireland. Don’t get me wrong, it’s not something that could happen over night, and different policies suit different countries. But I think with the changing tides in Ireland now, decriminalisation is a possibility in the future.
One thing I find really important, if all this is going to be discussed, is the differentiation between types of drugs. For example, cannabis is completely different to heroin, cocaine is completely different to MDMA, magic mushrooms is completely different to alcohol. The blanket name “drugs” can be quite damaging. These drugs all have completely different effects on the body and are generally used under very different circumstances by different types of people. People should educate themselves on the different types of drugs and their effects.
I also find it crazy that all these drugs have the same blanket legal status in Ireland:
Class A includes Opium, Crack, Cocaine, Heroin, Ecstasy and LSD, Magic Mushrooms and Amphetamines (speed) for injection. Being caught with these drugs for your own use can mean up to seven years prison time and/or a fine. Being caught with enough for supplying (or dealing) can mean up to life imprisonment and/or a fine.
The fact that someone who is caught with naturally occurring magic mushrooms is given the same punishment as someone caught with opium or crack is absolutely appalling to me, and this is why drug differentiation is something I feel is really important if we are to move forward with this subject.
Why should drugs be decriminalised? What would it help?
The idea of eradicating drugs from society by waging a war on those who use them is fundamentally flawed for one simple reason: it doesn’t reduce drug taking.
Take Portugal as an example. Portugal decriminalised all drugs in 2001. In the nearly 15 years since, the country has seen drug abuse drop by half, and now the money previously spent on prohibition enforcement is spent helping drug addicts re-enter into society. Although some may have predicted differently, Portugal’s change in policy has not led to an increase in drug use. Instead, they have allowed resources to be re-directed towards the treatment system, and have seen dramatic reductions in addiction, HIV infections and drug-related deaths. The rule is, anyone who is arrested for drug possession is immediately assessed and sent for treatment or education. If they fail to participate, they have to pay a fine.
This new policy is working very well and can hopefully be used as a model in the future for Ireland and other countries. So, this makes me wonder, is it the drugs themselves that cause problems, or is it the system in which the drugs are caught up in? My feeling is the systems and policies are the major cause of harm.
Whether it is a student taking pure MDMA at a music concert, or a person injecting heroin on the street, I think neither should be treated as a criminal – They should be given access to safe, regulated drugs and proper education and health services.
My only issue with the decriminalisation system is it keeps the black market in business. If the government want to stamp out the crime related to drug production and trafficking, full legalisation and strict regulation is necessary. Governments should be supplying safe drugs such as MDMA and LSD, rather than leaving it up to the black market. Now, I understand that this concept may seem outrageous to people, but we have to look at the bigger picture and forget our preconditions. Drugs, such as alcohol and tobacco, which are more detrimental to health and more addictive than some “illegal” drugs, are regulated and sold by the government. This system works and makes money for the government. In the future I would like to see drugs such as MDMA and psychedelics being sold in the same way. However, let’s forget about advertising and promotion – People should be able to make their own choice, not be told what to do or take by companies. Additionally, I think eventually people should be allowed grow their own cannabis, as it is just a herb and is as safe to grow and consume as it is to grow your own fruit and veg. In Spain, each person can legally grow up to 4 plants for personal use. Other drugs are chemically synthesized therefore should be produced and distributed by the government, as other pharmacy drugs are.
Why has there been a change in Ireland now, why at this time?
Times are changing in Ireland, look at the movements with gay rights and abortion laws. New generations are beginning to question laws and policies. We have people in the public eye like Minister of State, Aodhan O’Riordhan, who is advocating drug decriminalisation. Irish organisations such as the Peter McVerry Trust have also made themselves known to support drug decriminalisation. There are also a growing number of newly set up organisations such as The Students for Sensible Drug Policy, Help Not Harm, Support Don’t Punish and The Psychedelic Society of Ireland.
Additionally, we have more access to information now than ever before. We can compare ourselves to other countries and see what is working abroad. Look at America’s new cannabis laws, it’s going very well for the states that have decriminalised and legalised the drug. It is helping people with an endless list of health issues; chronic pain and muscle spasms, epilepsy, glaucoma, nausea and vomiting during chemotherapy, to name a few. It is also making a huge amount of money for the government. All you have to do is Google the benefits of cannabis, MDMA or psychedelics and you’ll find a huge amount of brand new research showing that these drugs have incredible medical and therapeutic benefits.
The moral issue surrounding drug use is finally changing too. Young people are realising they have been lied to or been given misinformation about drugs, as their own experiences do not match with the horror stories they have been told by the government and their parents. As well as access to information, it is also down to the new wave self experimentation (and ease of obtaining drugs through the internet) – and there is a whole lot of that going on in Ireland at the moment. I want to see more up to date education being given to young people so they can make safe and informed decisions. Books like Albert Hofmanns “LSD: My Problem Child” and Stanislav Groff’s LSD: Doorway to the Numinous” are widely available, informing people about the truth about how psychedelics were used before they were made illegal.
Some people believe that drug taking (consciousness exploration as a basic human right) could cause a spiritual revolution that would lead society to be more considerate to the environment and each other. But for now, we need to work on the first few baby steps – drug decriminalisation in Ireland.
Words: Ciara Sherlock