As the battle to decriminalize — and legalize — weed in the U.S. continues, another country is taking a giant leap towards eliminating its stringent drug laws. In the near future, Ireland will decriminalize marijuana, cocaine, and heroin possession. Medically-supervised injection rooms will also soon be available to drug users, in order to reduce the stigma of addiction.
Ireland is following in the footsteps of countries that have started to tire of the fallout from the war on drugs driven by U.S. policy.
On Monday, during a speech at the London School of Economics, Minister of Drugs Aodhán Ó Ríordáin announced plans to open the injection centers for drug users in Dublin next year. Ríordáin also divulged that the parliamentary committee on Justice, Defence and Equality strongly supports decriminalization across the board, and will work towards making that a reality in 2016.
Calling on a “radical” shift in drug policy, Ríordáin pointed to the public health implications of decriminalization and the extent to which national funds are spent on law enforcement and court efforts to crack down on drug use.
“Too often those with drug problems suffer from stigma, due to a lack of understanding or public education about the nature of addiction. This stigma can be compounded for those who end up with a criminal record due to possession of drugs for their own use,” he said. “Addiction is not a choice, it’s a healthcare issue. This is why I believe it is imperative that we approach our drug problem in a more compassionate and sensitive way.”
By decriminalizing the drugs, addicts are less likely to wind up behind bars and more likely to receive treatment. The minister cited research that treatment reduces both drug use and drug-related crime.
As for the benefits of establishing supervised injection sites, Ríordáin explained that casual drug injection in the streets of Dublin threatens the lives of users and the general public. Users can overdose and contract blood-borne diseases, and people around them can be harmed by “syringes and other drug paraphernalia.”
By opening centers where medical professionals oversee injection, drug addiction can be diverted to safer, controlled settings. The Irish Times reports that injection facilities will spring up in Galway, Cork, Limerick, in addition to Dublin.
“The drug problem is a constantly changing phenomenon,” the minister noted in his speech. “Governments around the world are constantly trying to play catch up to deal with a very sophisticated and lucrative market.”
In the past few years, countries in Europe and the Americas have decriminalized and legalized various drugs, making a sharp turn away from tough law enforcement at the heart of the “War on Drugs.”
Portugal took drastic action as early as 2001, when it decriminalized all drug use. Instead of jail time, drug users face fines and community service. The impact of the 2001 law has been significant, with drug use among adults and youth dropping ever since it went into effect. HIV is far less common among drug users, and the overdose rate is lower than every other country in the European Union except Romania.
In 2009, Mexico took a similar step by decriminalizing the possession of small amounts of heroin, cocaine, marijuana, LSD, and methamphetamine.
In Colombia and Peru, cocaine possession and cultivation is legal. The drug is decriminalized in Switzerland and Germany. Both countries permit cocaine for medical use, as do the U.K, Hong Kong, and Singapore. Heroine is similarly permitted for medical purposes in Canada, Hong Kong, the Netherlands, and the U.K. Brazil could also decriminalize all drug possession in the near future. Supreme Court arguments were heard in September.
With Ríordáin’s announcement, Ireland is on its way to implementing one of the most progressive drug laws in the world.
“We need to have discussions like today in think tanks, universities, parliaments and small rooms across the globe so that we can develop a more modern and comprehensive response to tackling drug trafficking and consumption,” Ríordáin said.