Cannabis, medicine and the law

Sir, – Dr Therese Boyle makes some interesting points (Letters, June 12th). One of the most important is that most of the unfortunate offenders in Oberstown come from families that are dysfunctional or from sections of society that are marginalised where the daily use of "weed" by teenagers is considered by many as "normal". This is despite the fact that it is a criminal offence to possess even small quantities of cannabis.

Across the entire world – including Ireland – the so-called war on drugs has always disproportionately affected the disadvantaged and marginalised while making fortunes for some very unsavoury members of society. If the war on drugs were proving successful in eliminating abuse of drugs, there might indeed be a case to continue to prosecute that war. However, Dr Boyle’s letter can be taken as conclusive evidence that the war has failed.

It is accepted that few offenders are imprisoned in Ireland for possession of small quantities of cannabis. However, this does not mean that the enforcement of the law by the police affects different sections of society in the same way.

In many disadvantaged areas there is considerable tension between significant sections of the population and the forces of law and order. This tension exacerbates the problems of anti-social behaviour which makes life such a misery for some unfortunates living there. The Garda Síochána finds itself in a Catch-22 situation: if it rigorously enforces the letter of the law on cannabis possession by confiscation, caution, arrest and referral to the courts, it only increases resentment against (or worse, contempt for) the system. If it does not enforce the law, it is undermining the credibility of the rule of law.


In any event, the drugs barons continue to make tax free fortunes and can encourage their “distributors” to up-sell to the unwary even more dangerous – and lucrative – products.

As far as this writer is aware, there are no “middle-class” advocacy groups anywhere in the world promoting the idea of legal cannabis use by teenagers. What “middle-class” advocates of reform of the laws on cannabis are arguing for is the regulation and taxation of the sale of legal cannabis to adults over the age of 21. It would remain illegal to distribute or sell cannabis to anyone under age.

These self-same advocates frequently propose that the tax revenues derived from the cannabis sales tax would be ring-fenced to support counselling and education services on the dangers of all addictive substances.

Meanwhile, the vast majority of comfortable middle-class people in their leafy suburbs can sleep safely in their beds while the disadvantaged continue to be further marginalised by the unwinnable war on drugs. – Yours, etc,



Dublin 16.