Drug dealers may exploit a system that allows users to carry drugs for personal use, An Garda Síochána has warned.
The warning is contained in an addendum to a report from an expert working group on the issue published on Friday, as Ministers announced a liberalisation of the rules on drug possession.
The new approach will free up court and Garda time but will require extra resources and frontline staff, Minister for Health Simon Harris said.
He said the new health-led approach will affect about 12,000 people a year who come to the attention of gardaí for drug possession for personal use.
About 10 per cent of these – 1,200 people – are expected to be referred for further treatment and therapy under the new system rather than being processed by the criminal justice system as at present.
The policy, which will not be implemented until the second half of next year, will see people found in possession of narcotics, determined by gardaí to be for personal use, referred for a health screening on the first occasion. Where a person is caught a second time, gardaí will have the discretion to issue an adult caution.
Labour Senator Aodhán Ó Ríordáin said the Government “had a once-in-a-generation opportunity to radically change our approach to drugs policy and they have failed abysmally”. People Before Profit TD Gino Kenny described the measure as a step in the right direction but called for a review to examine why full decriminalisation is not legally possible.
An Garda Síochána, in an observation in the report arguing against multiple adult cautions, warned that illicit drug users may exploit that they are permitted to carry and possess drugs for personal use.
“Drug dealers and their couriers may adapt their behaviour to carry small quantities of drugs in the knowledge that they are permitted to possess a quantity of drugs for personal use.”
The behaviour of “habitual” drug users “cannot be allowed to impact on the quality of the rest of society unchecked,” the Garda said. “Where habitual drug use is impacting on the local community, An Garda Síochána must be in a position to take appropriate action.”
A Director of Public Prosecutions official warned against removing imprisonment as an option for “recidivist repeat offenders” and said the public interest might require the option of a prison term.
“This could include, for example, suspects involved in drug-dealing who carry small amounts of drugs or individual ‘deals’ as a matter of practice to avoid more serious penalties.”
At a press conference, Mr Harris said the change was “absolutely not about decriminalisation” of illegal drugs or an attempt to normalise their use. Gardaí would still enjoy stop-and-search powers as well as a degree of discretion in dealing with people who are found in possession of drugs.
Minister for Justice Charlie Flanagan said criminal sanctions for the use of illegal drugs would remain. “This is not about decriminalisation, this is not about accepting the use of drugs,” he said.
Mr Harris described the change as offering “a helping hand instead of just a handcuff” but insisted the Government had no plans to legalise cannabis or any other illegal drug.
Mr Flanagan said he is examining the possibility of introducing a specific offence of grooming children, through inducements such as the provision of drugs or by other means, to carry out drug-related crimes.
The policy broadly follows the conclusions of a working group set up to advise on policy changes, though some of its recommendations are not being implemented. Mr Flanagan said more work needed to be done on the issue of increasing the scope for spent convictions for drug offences.
The chairman of the working group, retired judge Garret Sheehan, had advised the Government in a minority report to “strongly resist and reject all calls for decriminalisation of controlled drugs”.
Mr Sheehan declined to comment on Friday on the Government’s plans in the area.