Cannabis, medicine and the law

Sir, – A group of 14 "experts on drug policy" signed a letter to your newspaper to advise Irish society of the "urgent imperative to protect people from needless criminalisation" with regard to cannabis (June 7th). All were from institutions in the US, UK, Sweden and Austria. They have clearly no practical experience of the drugs culture in Ireland but are happy to advocate for change in Irish law in this regard.

As a GP who has worked for 20 years in Mountjoy prison and more recently in Oberstown juvenile detention facility, I would like to make three points about the debate on cannabis and the law.

1) Cannabis is already effectively decriminalised in Irish society: no-one is ever incarcerated for the possession of a small amount of cannabis. The drug courts operate to divert minor offenders to community rehabilitation programmes. Anyone working closely with the patients I see would be well aware of this, and so it is difficult to understand where the pressure to “decriminalise” is coming from.

2) Among the teenagers (mostly boys aged 13 to 18) at Oberstown the daily smoking of “weed” is almost ubiquitous (in the community). None of these boys is in Oberstown for cannabis possession but most have severe psychosocial problems associated with family dysfunction, neglect and abuse. Alcohol use in these boys is quite minimal but most regard their daily cannabis use as normal and fail to recognise its contribution to their problems.


3) “Normalisation” of cannabis use has a disproportionately greater effect on these young people who are already marginalised by their background and social problems. It is already an uphill battle trying to educate young people about the negative effects of alcohol and cannabis: any official gesture which can be perceived as “normalisation” only compounds the problem.

While decriminalisation may make life easier for some middle-class youth, the message it sends would worsen the devastation already caused to deprived young people by further encouraging cannabis culture. Your letter-writers cite no evidence to support the idea that changing the drugs legislation in Ireland will do anything to help the young marginalised population most affected by them. Politicians and journalists advocating for change in the law need to consider seriously the views of those working most closely with young people and need to recognise the political and corporate interests represented by many of the voices calling for change in the law.

There is an urgent imperative to protect vulnerable young people from needless middle-class political agendas! – Yours, etc,


Dublin 7.