Give Me a Crash Course In . . . the temporary legalisation of ecstasy

How it happened and what the Government has done about it

Ecstasy problem: Minister for Health Leo Varadkar said he had been told that dozens of cases could be affected by this week’s court ruling. Photograph: AFP/Getty

Ecstasy problem: Minister for Health Leo Varadkar said he had been told that dozens of cases could be affected by this week’s court ruling. Photograph: AFP/Getty

 

So once-illicit drugs became legal this week. That’s a surprise Possession of some psychoactive drugs did, briefly. Minister for Health Leo Varadkar confirmed on Tuesday that possessing certain drugs was no longer illegal, following a court case. He stressed that the sale, supply, import and export of the drugs remained illegal.

Exactly which drugs are we talking about? Ecstasy, magic mushrooms, benzodiazepines, ketamine, khat and some “head-shop drugs” were among those involved. The legal judgment had no implications for 125 or so other substances, including cannabis, heroin and cocaine.

How on earth did this happen? The State successfully defended a challenge to the Misuse of Drugs Act 1977 in a High Court hearing in March 2014. The case then went to the Court of Appeal. Concerning the prosecution of one Stanislav Bederev for possession for sale of methylethcathinone, it dealt with the Government’s power to control substances harmful to human health under Section 2 (2) of the Act. The subsection was found to be unconstitutional, so possession of any of the substances it was meant to control then ceased to be an offence.

Did the Government accept that? The Government moved quickly to address the situation, rushing emergency legislation through the Dáil on Tuesday and the Seanad on Wednesday, with the co-operation of the Opposition. President Michael D Higgins signed the Bill into law; the Misuse of Drugs (Amendment) 2015 Bill amended the 1977 Act.

The media must have had fun with this story It was pretty irresistible. Media outlets all over the world picked up on the unusual development. Here at home the satirical website Waterford Whispers News led the way in lampooning the loophole, with a series of irreverent tweets. Ecstasy reunion parties were being organised in clubs and pubs across the country, it joked.

Leo Varadkar is a doctor isn’t he? Yes, and, wearing his doctor’s hat, he gave a stern warning about the possible side effects of the drugs. “They all have very significant health risks that outweigh any perceived recreational benefit,” he said, adding that in some cases taking the drugs could lead to death and disability.

But wait: could people who have been charged with drug-related offences get off? Varadkar said he had been told that “dozens” of cases could be affected by the ruling; the legal expert Garnet Orange SC warned that the ruling would undermine forthcoming criminal prosecutions. The Minister said that each case would be analysed but that anything to do with the prosecutions of individuals would be considered on a case-by-case basis by the Director of Public Prosecutions, who acts independently of the Government.

Did the Government know this was coming? It had anticipated the possibility of such an outcome and had drafted emergency legislation that had been approved by Cabinet last January, so it was prepared.

What’s the next step? New legislation is planned for later in the year, to reform the area. The Government is considering an appeal to the Supreme Court, but Varadkar said the Coalition had to act immediately.

The Irish Times Logo
Commenting on The Irish Times has changed. To comment you must now be an Irish Times subscriber.
SUBSCRIBE
GO BACK
Error Image
The account details entered are not currently associated with an Irish Times subscription. Please subscribe to sign in to comment.
Comment Sign In

Forgot password?
The Irish Times Logo
Thank you
You should receive instructions for resetting your password. When you have reset your password, you can Sign In.
The Irish Times Logo
Please choose a screen name. This name will appear beside any comments you post. Your screen name should follow the standards set out in our community standards.
Screen Name Selection

Hello

Please choose a screen name. This name will appear beside any comments you post. Your screen name should follow the standards set out in our community standards.

The Irish Times Logo
Commenting on The Irish Times has changed. To comment you must now be an Irish Times subscriber.
SUBSCRIBE
Forgot Password
Please enter your email address so we can send you a link to reset your password.

Sign In

Your Comments
We reserve the right to remove any content at any time from this Community, including without limitation if it violates the Community Standards. We ask that you report content that you in good faith believe violates the above rules by clicking the Flag link next to the offending comment or by filling out this form. New comments are only accepted for 3 days from the date of publication.