Legislation to decriminalise drugs, including heroin, cocaine and cannabis, for personal use could be enacted in early 2019, Minister of State for the National Drugs Strategy Catherine Byrne has indicated.
On Thursday, she appointed a working group to look at “alternative approaches to the possession of drugs for personal use”. It will have its first meeting on December 11th.
The group, to be chaired by retired judge Garret Sheehan, is expected to produce its first recommendations by May. Consultations with stakeholders will follow, after which final recommendations will be made "be the end of next year or early 2019" she said. Legislation is likely to follow.
The decriminalisation of small amounts of illegal drugs, for personal use, was a key recommendation from the Oireachtas justice committee this year, as a "harm reducing and rehabilitative approach" to chronic drug use.
Welcoming the announcement of the working group, Tony Duffin, chief executive of the Ana Liffey drug project said "congratulations" were due to Ms Byrne.
“Criminalising people for possession of small amounts of drugs is ineffective as a policy. It does not reduce prevalence of possession in general, nor is it a cost-effective way of addressing drug use.
“Conversely, it can cause great damage to those it effects. Being labelled a criminal is stigmatising and can affect things most of us take for granted like employment or the ability to travel abroad.”
‘Take the flak’
Ms Byrne said she would “take the flak” when the location of a planned supervised injection centre was announced, next month.
The HSE is due to recommend its preferred location for the new facility, in Dublin city centre, in "mid-December", said Ms Byrne. Among the locations under consideration are Middle Abbey Street, Fitzwilliam Street, Pearse Street and on the south quays.
In recent weeks however, the plan was dealt a blow when, following representations by business groups, Dublin City Council ruled the new facility would need planning permission, potentially delaying the project by up to one year.
A supervised injection centre is proposed as a way to reduce fatal drug overdose and to link drug-users in with essential services.
Ms Byrne hoped the centre’s opening would not be delayed “too long”.
“If it has to go though planning it has to go through planning. There will be consultations.
“In the end I am the one who is going to take the flak for it and I am quite prepared to do that. It is important that we change the way we treat these chronically ill drug-users, treat them with dignity and do all we can to assist them coming off drugs and moving on with their lives, without this monkey on their back of their past.”
Once a decision had been made on the facility’s preferred location, local businesses and residents could be engaged with and the project progressed, she hoped.