Comment & Analysis
Sep 25, 2015

New Debates in the Decriminalisation of Drugs

In light of new information about student drug use, John Bethell argues that regulation, rather than prohibition, is the way forward for Irish drugs policy.

John BethellStaff Writer

Momentum is growing for a re-evaluation of Ireland’s current drug policy. Last month, the Union of Students in Ireland (USI) submitted a report to the Oireachtas recommending the decriminalisation of drugs in Ireland, along with an increase in investment in drug rehabilitation, treatment and education programs. The USI report quoted data from the National Student Drug Survey that showed half of all respondents had smoked cannabis, while 32 per cent of respondents had consumed ecstasy at some stage, 20 per cent had consumed cocaine, and 11 percent had tried LSD. This data accompanied the results of a Trinity survey that showed 60 per cent of all respondents had used drugs with friends or during a party, while more than 15 per cent said they used drugs “during normal daily activities, working and studying.” Over 80 per cent of respondents also said they were unconcerned about the impact drugs were having on their lives, prompting Lynn Ruane, President of Trinity College Dublin Students’ Union (TCDSU), to say that students have not “begun to associate with the health, social and long-term implications of their drug use because they’re very much in the moment, they’re enjoying drugs, and it’s all very new to them.” Ruane is right: students are loath to recognise the consequences of drug use, preferring instant gratification to consequences they can ignore. However, it is important to note that constant drug use can have severe consequences on your health. So if you find that you have become addicted to drugs, it might be a good idea to go somewhere like this drug rehab in New Jersey or one that is closer to home, to help you with you addiction.

America’s attempt to ban alcohol in 1920 showed how fruitless such an effort can be.

If we learn anything from the surveys above, it is that current drug education is inadequate. Several countries have started to reconsider their strategy, with many leading figures pushing for change. Switzerland, Portugal, the Netherlands, Spain, Czech Republic and Denmark have all carried out decriminalisation, part-legalisation or at least changes to reduce criminality and harm to users and society. In many ways, decriminalisation presents a realistic goal: it aims not to eradicate drugs from the face of the earth, but rather to minimise drug abuse as a whole. Put simply, it is regulation instead of prohibition – which, as a drugs policy, is only workable if you can completely remove supply. And America’s attempt to ban alcohol in 1920 showed how fruitless such an effort can be. If the UK and Ireland end up decriminalising drugs, our citizens will be able start buying accessories to use their choice of drug, take these website dieser Typ von Verdampfer for example selling cannabis vaporizers.

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From a financial standpoint, a regulated legalisation of drugs would be quite lucrative for taxpayers and local communities. According to a 2009 report by the drugs reform charity Transform, legalisation could save the taxpayer around £14 billion. An estimate from the Independent Drug Monitoring Unit showed up to £1.3 billion could be generated by a £2 per gram tax on cannabis. Not only that, the vast sums of money spent on policing and incarcerating drug users could be spent on more effective drug rehabilitation, education and support programmes.

An often posited problem with decriminalisation and legalisation is that both scenarios would create more addicts. Writing for the Guardian last year, the prominent academic and opponent of drug legalisation Kevin Sabet argued: “Legal regulation has been a disaster for drugs like alcohol and tobacco. Both of those drugs are now sold by highly commercialised industries who thrive off addiction for profit.” His conclusion? “What we need is much smarter law-enforcement, coupled with real demand reduction in places like Europe and the US.” This is an important point considering Ireland’s problem with alcohol: we are consuming twice as much as we were in the 1960s and one in ten people in Ireland are struggling with alcoholism.

Portuguese decriminalisation has gone hand-in-hand with drug education programmes, an approach which could be effective in Ireland.

USI argue that decriminalisation would promote openness and facilitate rehabilitation for drug users, citing Portugal’s drug policy as a model for Ireland. In Portugal, those affected by addiction are able to undergo treatment and rehabilitation while going about their daily lives, and the report noted that “despite virtually eliminating all punishments for personal drug possession, rates of drug use haven’t skyrocketed in Portugal like some predicted.” Portuguese decriminalisation has gone hand-in-hand with drug education programmes, an approach which could be effective in Ireland.

If we’re focusing upon harm reduction, then the research of the controversial neuropsychopharmacologist Dr David Nutt is highly relevant. Nutt graphed legal and illegal drugs on a scale of dependence vs. physical harm and found alcohol and tobacco to be more harmful than LSD, ecstasy and cannabis. He equated the statistical dangers of ecstasy use to that of horseriding, stating that horseriding includes one serious adverse event every 350 exposures, while ecstasy use involves one serious adverse event every 10,000 exposures. The main danger with ecstasy use is impurity and contamination with PMA, a highly toxic amphetamine that resulted in the death of a nineteen-year old girl in the Twisted Pepper nightclub. If the government were able to safely regulate and administer drugs such deaths could be avoided.

A degree of decriminalisation is necessary to allow those affected by drugs, particularly addicts, a means of recovery away from the criminal justice system. This is not a problem we can solve with arrests and convictions. However, to legalise all substances and make them freely available to all would be a mistake. Regulation has to be accompanied by education and openness. If a pilot decriminalisation system in Ireland was targeted at reducing harm, we would see whether Ireland can benefit from the Portuguese experience or not. If it can, then the result will be financially beneficial, criminal gangs will suffer, and lives may be saved.

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