Committee says 'joint at concert' should not be criminalised

Report says possession of some illegal drugs should be dealt with by ‘Dissuasion Committees’

People caught smoking “a joint at a concert” should not be criminalised, the Oireachtas Justice committee has recommended.

A new report says the possession of small amounts of illegal drugs for personal use should be dealt with by so-called “Dissuasion Committees”, which are used in Portugal, rather than the criminal justice system.

Committee chairman Fine Gael TD David Stanton said gardaí he had spoken to about the proposal informally were “delighted” with the idea of adopting the Portuguese authorities’ approach to small-scale drug offences.

“It’s not going to be legal. It’s not legal in Portugal. We’re not saying it should be legal here, but it should not be criminalised. It should be treated the same way as a road traffic offence or a speeding offence or something like that,” Mr Stanton said.


He said police he had spoken to during a fact-finding mission to Portugal said they were now able to devote their resources to “heavy hitters” involved in drug dealing and trafficking.

“We’re not using the word legalisation. So it’s not that. And also if you go through this report decriminalisation is not mentioned either, because we want to take the focus away from the criminal justice area and move it to the health area,” he said.

“Speaking informally to members of the gardaí, and people who actually work on the ground, have told me informally they’re absolutely delighted because they say they don’t want to be bringing people to the courts for possession of small amounts of illegal substances.”

He said the stigma having a criminal record could have “massive implications” on a person’s future, “for maybe making one mistake, having a joint at a concert for instance”.

Mr Stanton said the committee had been keen to publish its report before the election and hoped the next Government would adopt its proposals.

Fine Gael TD Alan Farrell, who also travelled to Portugal, said “Dissuasion Committees” took place in informal meeting rooms.

“It was somewhere were individuals would, in a very casual format, discuss their addiction...There were no suits, there were no white suits,” he said.

A range of professionals were available to the “clients”, he said.

The launch of the committee’s report was also attended by Independent Senator Katherine Zappone and Labour Senator Ivana Bacik.

In the audience was Dr Garrett McGovern, a GP with experience of treating drug and alcohol addiction, who expressed concern about the “inference” that everybody who used cannabis needed to go before a “Dissuasion Committee”.

He said: “I treat a hell of a lot of addiction. I treat very little cannabis. The vast, vast majority of cannabis users do not have a problem with cannabis.

“To put them through a health committee is going to be very expensive, probably very stigmatising. I don’t think it’s the way to do that. If somebody has a problem with cannabis, that’s different.”

Mary Minihan

Mary Minihan

Mary Minihan is Features Editor of The Irish Times