Doctors, the law and cannabis

 

Sir, – I share the concerns of the doctors who warn us against the dangers of cannabis (Letters, May 20th), but I disagree that the best way of dealing with the dangers presented by this and other drugs is to criminalise those using them.

Cannabis, like all drugs, is harmful if used improperly or to excess, and is especially dangerous to young people and to those with certain underlying mental sensitivities. Nevertheless, very many users enjoy or have enjoyed the drug recreationally without suffering ill-effects, including, in their youth, many of the judges whom we now expect to apply the criminal law to others.

Is criminalising users really the best way to minimise the harm of cannabis? If your son or daughter were a cannabis user, would you prefer to see them arrested and charged, and their lives ruined, or treated where necessary by therapists and doctors? Research shows that addiction arises from trauma, and is potentiated by poverty and deprivation. So where is the justice in applying criminal penalties to those afflicted with this disease, penalties which fall mainly on the children of the poor?

If criminalisation were effective, then the argument for considering cannabis as a legal not a medical issue would have more weight. But after 50 years of the “War on Drugs”, have the best efforts of the customs and police really made it more difficult for young people to get their hands on the stuff? And how much money has been wasted, and how many young lives ruined? And what have been the consequences of bringing a criminal mafia into existence, in exactly the same way as happened in the US during prohibition?

I believe that we should legalise cannabis under strict controls, and that instead of corporations profiting, the State should license and tax cannabis. The profits could be used, ring-fenced, for state-of-the art therapeutic and rehabilitative supports, and for swimming pools, football fields and youth clubs, especially in the areas most affected by drug problems.

The scale of this problem is appalling, and yet it is ignored. A total of 736 people died from drug-related deaths in Ireland in 2016 alone, according to the Health Research Board; compare this to the 175 deaths from road accidents in the same year. The doctors who raised the issue have done us a great service in opening the discussion.

The way drug addicts and users are stigmatised and abused in Ireland today exactly parallels the way the children of the poor were treated in the industrial schools, the mother and baby homes and the Magdalene laundries of the past. We were silent and indifferent then; and so we are now. Is it because they were poor and young and voiceless? Will we once again salve our conscience and feel shame only after it’s too late for those who suffer and die, and for their families?– Yours, etc,

GERARD GRIFFIN,

Ballinamore,

Co Leitrim.

A chara, – The letter published in your newspaper on May 20th regarding the cannabis debate demands a response, particularly this line: “Decriminalisation and ‘medicinal cannabis’ campaigns have proved to be effective Trojan horse strategies on the road to full legalisation and commercialisation elsewhere.”

The letter misrepresents the campaign for decriminalisation of drug use entirely. Those of us who advocate for decriminalisation are addressing the social inequality of incarceration of people with drug addictions. It makes no sense whatever to address a person’s drug addiction through the criminal justice system. Over 70 per cent of drug offences in Irish courts relate to possession for personal use – a huge waste of Garda time and resources.

If the learned medical professionals wish to make a strong case about the dangers of cannabis use, they are entitled to do so. But to label those of us who are trying to decriminalise those with addiction as having another motive is unfair and inaccurate. – Yours, etc,

Senator AODHÁN

Ó RÍORDÁIN,

(Labour),

Leinster House,

Dublin 2.

Sir, – The 12 senior doctors who signed their names to a letter of warning to the Government on their policy regarding the normalisation of cannabis have done a service to the people of Ireland. They are not alone among the medical fraternity. I have been engaged in school drug education and counselling families of cannabis users for many years and can attest to their concerns. The concerns of parents, teachers and gardaí have fallen on deaf ears.

If you had a medical condition would you seek the advice of a politician on treatment or a qualified doctor? Any politician who lends their voice to the normalisation of this insidious drug is someone who refuses to listen for his or her own reasons and should be held accountable by the electorate.

Our young people are our future and our most valuable asset. Climate change is not the only danger to be faced by them. – Yours, etc,

GRAINNE KENNY,

Dún Laoghaire,

Co Dublin.