Home > Minister's contribution to Trinity cannabis debate.

Connolly, Johnny (2007) Minister's contribution to Trinity cannabis debate. Drugnet Ireland, Issue 24, Winter 2007, p. 21.

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In its opening debate of the current academic year, the Trinity College Historical Society debated the motion That the sale of cannabis should be legalised’. Speaking in favour of the motion were Senator Ivana Bacik, Reid Professor of Criminal Law at TCD and Dr Paul Quigley of the Drug Policy Action Group. Opposing the motion were Pat Carey TD, Minister of State for the national drugs strategy, and Johnny Connolly, research officer with the Health Research Board. 

Minister Carey set out in some detail the government’s position on this controversial issue.  With regard to the health effects of cannabis use, the Minister argued that cannabis cigarettes produced ‘three times more carcinogenic “tars” than tobacco and five times more poisonous carbon monoxide’ and that this put users at risk ‘of bronchitis and double(d) the risk of certain types of cancer, including lung and throat cancer’. Referring to the association between cannabis use and mental illness, the Minister stated that long-term cannabis use could, in some cases, ‘trigger mental illness such as schizophrenia and depression – two sicknesses that cannot afford to be promoted considering this country’s intolerable suicide rates’. 

It is often argued that cannabis operates as a so-called ‘gateway’ to other illicit drugs. The Minister stated that the ‘vast majority’ of young people who have used a variety of illegal substances initiated their illicit drug consumption with cannabis. Consequently, ‘they become involved and immersed in the drug culture’, come to know drug dealers and ‘more often then not’ come into contact with users of drugs of a more serious nature.

With regard to the potency of cannabis, the Minister suggested that, while previously most cannabis contained approximately 2% of the active substance THC, newer ‘specially cultivated strains of cannabis can be up to 16% THC’. He acknowledged, however, that these ‘newer strains’ are not the most commonly used types of cannabis in Ireland. The Minister, who is a former schoolteacher, highlighted research which, he said, pointed to a connection between cannabis use and early school leaving. While cannabis use is, Minister Carey stated, ‘far from the only factor stopping teenagers and young adults reaching their educational potential, it seems somewhat ridiculous to me that we would risk further exacerbating the already existing difficulties by legalising cannabis.’ 

With regard to the reclassification of cannabis to a Class C drug in the UK, the Minister stated that:

equivalent penalties continue to be much higher than those currently in force in this country. The changes in the UK appear to allow greater discretion in dealing with people found to be in possession of cannabis. Under Irish law, the Gardaí and the Courts already have a very high degree of discretion in dealing with these cases. Furthermore, Jack Straw, UK Secretary of State, indicated recently that he personally was in favour of reclassifying cannabis to a Class B drug.

Referring to developments in the Netherlands, he said:

The Mayor of Rotterdam recently announced that 27 of its 62 coffee shops must close as of January 1, 2009, because these shops are located too close to secondary and vocational schools. This is part of a rowing back to a degree by Holland at both national and at local level of its existing perceived ‘liberal’ policy. The relative toleration of cannabis use there is down to a wholly pragmatic view based on their so-called ‘gedogen’ principle.  This principle reflects an ambivalence with respect to whether the drug should be legal or illegal. It is used in relation to a situation or activity that technically is illegal, but which is actively tolerated as a matter of government policy – since everyone knows the issue (say prostitution or the use of soft drugs) can not be legislated out of existence. However, along with this tolerance, there is a relatively hard line taken, with licences for new coffee shops being rarely given and many municipal governments following a so-called extinction policy. The number of ’coffee shops‘ in Holland has reduced from 1,500 in 1995 to approximately 700 now.

The Minister argued that, although the level of acceptance of cannabis use is growing, ‘the majority of people in Ireland … are against the legalisation of cannabis. This is a fundamental reason in a democracy as to why you wouldn’t legalise a drug.’ Finally, the Minister questioned the assertion that legalisation would result in the elimination of criminal activity surrounding cannabis. ‘It may’, he argued ‘only result in a transfer from drug related criminal activity to other forms of criminal activity.’ Even if cannabis were legalised, he suggested, ‘it is difficult to envisage that its provision would be anything other than heavily regulated.  This would provide continued opportunities for criminals to continue their involvement in the illegal supply of cannabis.’ 

The motion was defeated by a narrow majority.


Item Type
Publication Type
Irish-related, Open Access, Article
Drug Type
Issue Title
Issue 24, Winter 2007
October 2007
Page Range
p. 21
Health Research Board
Issue 24, Winter 2007
Accession Number
HRB (Available)

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