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Home > Misuse of Drugs (Amendment) Bill 2015: Order for Second Stage.

[Oireachtas] Misuse of Drugs (Amendment) Bill 2015: Order for Second Stage. (10 Mar 2015)

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Misuse of Drugs (Amendment) Bill 2015: Order for Second Stage

 

Bill entitled an Act to amend the Misuse of Drugs Act 1977; to confirm certain statutory instruments; and to provide for related matters.

 

Minister for Health (Deputy Leo Varadkar): I move: "That Second Stage be taken now."

 

  Question put and agreed to.

 

Misuse of Drugs (Amendment) Bill 2015: Second Stage

 

Minister for Health (Deputy Leo Varadkar): I move: "That the Bill be now read a Second Time."   I am presenting the Misuse of Drugs (Amendment) Bill 2015 to the House today as an emergency measure on foot of a judgment earlier today by the Court of Appeal on the Misuse of Drugs Act 1977. I would like to express my appreciation to Whips and the House for agreeing to deal with this Bill at such short notice.   The ruling by the court today means that numerous substances which have been controlled by Government order in the years since 1977 cease to be controlled under the Act. The court ruled today on an appeal against the High Court judgment of May last year. The High Court had upheld the constitutionality of section 2(2) which is the provision in the Act empowering the Government to declare substances to be controlled under the Act. The Court of Appeal concluded that this provision is deficient in principles and policies and, accordingly, is repugnant to Article 15.2.1 of the Constitution. This vests the sole and exclusive power of making laws in the Oireachtas. Accordingly, any order may under this power is invalid. While the State had no way of knowing how the Court of Appeal would rule, we planned for this possibility by preparing this Bill and ensuring it could be brought before the House without delay. This Bill aims to deal with the fall-out of today's judgment by reinstating the status quo ante in relation to substances controlled by Government order. I hope it will meet with the approval of this House.   By way of explanation, the Misuse of Drugs Act has two primary purposes. It establishes a system of control over certain drugs to protect the public from dangerous or potentially dangerous and harmful substances and facilitates the safe use of certain controlled drug substances, which, though harmful if misused, have medical and therapeutic value. Under the legislation, unless expressly allowed to do so, it is illegal to possess, supply, manufacture, import or export a controlled substance. Controlled substances under the Act are substances which are either known to be, or have the potential to be, dangerous or harmful to human health, including their liability for misuse or causing social harm. In general, these are substances which affect the central nervous system, producing some mind-altering effect. This may be stimulation, depression, hallucinations or other significant change. Additionally, many of these drugs have the potential to cause addiction or dependence, whether physical or psychological.

  A substance may be declared controlled under the Act in one of two ways. The first is if the substance is listed in the original Schedule to the 1977 Act. The second is if the substance has been declared controlled by the Government by means of an order made under section 2(2) of the Act. Subsequent to a substance being declared controlled, the Minister for Health then makes regulations to place controls on the import, export, production, supply and possession appropriate to that substance. The Schedule to the Act lists over 100 substances which are controlled, including cocaine, heroin, cannabis, certain amphetamines and other well and less well known substances. These are not affected by today's judgment. However, the legislators in 1977 recognised that it was important to future-proof the legislation by providing a mechanism by which additional substances could be declared controlled without undue delay. This was far-seeing because as we all know numerous dangerous substances which might not have been known about, or might not have even existed, in 1977 have emerged on the drugs market in the intervening period. Accordingly, the Act provided under section 2(2) that additional substances could be controlled by means of Government order. Since 1977, this power has been used nine times by several Governments to control a wide range of dangerous substances, including ecstasy, and most recently head shop drugs.   Earlier today, section 2(2) under which Government orders are made was declared unconstitutional by the Court of Appeal. This judgment will be carefully examined by my Department with a view to considering its implications and what future amendments to the legislation may be required. What is clear is that, as of today, as a result of this judgment, all Government orders made under this Act cease to be valid. This means that all substances which have been declared controlled by Government order, many of which pose significant health risks for people who use them, are now no longer controlled under the Act.

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