The Republic of Ireland will decriminalise the possession of many drugs – including heroin, cocaine, and cannabis – for personal use, the country’s Drugs Minister has proclaimed.
Aodhán O’Ríordáin, the Minister of State for the National Drug Strategy, has declared this reform to be part of a “radical cultural shift” in the Irish approach to drug use and addiction, ahead of an official announcement in London this afternoon. O’Ríordáin will detail his plans during a keynote speech at the London School of Economics, which has convened drug policy experts from around the world to discuss the future of the War on Drugs.
The decriminalisation of an illegal drug is not the same as legalisation. It would remain illegal to produce or sell drugs, however criminal penalties for possession would no longer exist. Instead, policymakers may opt for individuals found with drugs to have their substances confiscated, pay a fine, enter rehabilitative treatment, or face no action. Importantly, the simple possession of drugs would no longer lead to the criminalisation of an individual.
Alongside drug decriminalisation, O’Ríordáin has also announced the introduction of supervised injection rooms; environments in which drug users can legally use intravenous drugs, such as heroin, with safe equipment and in the presence of health experts. Such facilities exist in several European countries – including Germany, the Netherlands, Spain, and Switzerland – and have proven effectiveness at reducing the overdose rates, as well as the transmission of HIV/AIDS.
O’Ríordáin plans to open injection rooms in Dublin during the next year, and subsequently in Cork, Galway and Limerick. He insists that facilities will be tailored to the issues facing the local area; “every city is different, every drug-using population is different, so different locations will have different needs.”
This reform comes in the wake of the leaked United Nations document, which asserts that countries may be breaking international law by punishing people for drug use. The briefing paper, written but yet unpublished by the UN’s Office on Drugs and Crime, outlines that “decriminalising drug use and possession for personal consumption is consistent with international drug control conventions and may be required to meet obligations under international human rights law”.