Decriminalisation likely to be ‘key recommendation’ of Ireland Citizens’ Assembly on drugs

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Decriminalisation is likely to be a ‘key recommendation’ from Ireland’s Citizens’ Assembly on drugs, say experts, as members call for a public health approach to drug policy.

After the second meeting of Ireland’s Citizens’ Assembly on Drug Use, it is ‘inevitable’ that members will recommend the decriminalisation of the personal possession of all drugs, say those following the process closely. 

The Citizens’ Assembly, led by chair Paul Reid, is made up of 99 members of the public selected at random to help make recommendations on the country’s drug policy. 

Following a number of meetings the Assembly is required to submit a report and recommendation(s) to the Houses of the Oireachtas by the end of 2023. 

The second session, which took place from 13-14 May, saw members visit the Coolmine and Merchants’ Quay drug treatment centres to witness services and hear the experience of those impacted by drug use. 

Anger and frustration over ‘failings’ of drug policy

During Sunday’s wrap-up session, many expressed anger and frustration at the country’s ‘failed’ drug policy, calling for urgent funding for frontline services and a public health approach. 

“We are suffering from a mixture of anger, fury and shame,” said one member.

“It seems appalling that in a rich society today, we have a portion of society which is stigmatised and ignored. Criminal records clearly, from what we’ve heard the last couple of days, achieve nothing. Prison achieves nothing. The central problem is there’s no funding, and there’s no funding because society isn’t interested.”

Another added: “It’s clear that the current policies have failed. If anything, they have probably made things worse.”

An overhaul of how the current system works, including a more holistic approach to treatment and prioritised funding to ensure access to services for all those who need them, were among the demands made by members. 

There was also widespread acknowledgement of the link between trauma, mental health issues and substance misuse.

“Drug taking is both a consequence and a cause of mental health problems, and is the result and the cause of trauma,” commented a member.

While another made the point: “Criminalising the end user, who suffers from previous trauma, doesn’t work because it only leads to more trauma down the line.”

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