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Home > Seanad Eireann debate. Misuse of Drugs (Amendment) Bill 2016: report stage.

[Oireachtas] Seanad Eireann debate. Misuse of Drugs (Amendment) Bill 2016: report stage. (21 Jul 2016)

URL: http://oireachtasdebates.oireachtas.ie/Debates%20A...


Deputy Mick Wallace

This Bill is designed to criminalise the illegal sale and possession of certain prevalent prescription medicines. We would argue that criminalising those with addictions is simply meting out a further punishment on people who are already victims of the regressive laws surrounding prohibition. As Senator Lynn Ruane pointed out, as happened in Canada, this type of legislation will just move people on to new drugs and new ways of consuming them and when they are outlawed, they will move on to newer ones and so on, sometimes with devastating effect, even more on safe practices and drugs being used in this cycle of misery and punishment.

  When we debated the Bill a few weeks ago, I spoke at length about the system in place in Switzerland for more than 20 years. They have injection centres for heroin addicts and the state provides clean, safe prescription heroin to those who need it. The Swiss programme has been a fantastic success. It has saved countless lives and undermined and effectively destroyed the power of the drug dealers.

  The United States has chaos at the heart of its drugs war and has behind bars a higher proportion of its population than any country on the planet. Clearly, it is not working.

  In Switzerland, the gangs have no power over the addict they addicted because the state is caring for them. The average patient uses the programme for three years, after which 85% have stopped using every day. Crimes committed by those on heroin have plummeted, there are 55% fewer car thefts, and 80% fewer muggings and burglaries. That drop happened almost immediately after the programme started. HIV infections from heroin use have almost entirely disappeared.

  The Swiss started caring for addicts over 20 years ago by abandoning the American style of a zero tolerance approach and made heroin safe by taking it out of the hands of the criminals. The benefits of the system are crystal clear and the public have overwhelmingly defended the law from conservatives in two national referendums.

  Last year, the members of the Joint Committee on Justice, Defence and Equality travelled to Portugal to see first hand how the Portuguese decriminalisation system is working and to talk to those involved. In terms of the information the delegation brought back, they were told that 15 years ago, before they started, what was most feared was that this approach would cause drug consumption to increase, the authorities to be more tolerant towards drugs trafficking, allowing it to also increase, that Portugal could become the destiny for drug consumers from throughout Europe but especially from Spain and that the number of crimes directly related to drug addiction would rise, but that did not happen. Fifteen years have passed and drug consumption has not increased. The authorities kept at least the same level of intolerance towards drug trafficking, both internal and international. Portugal did not become a destination for drug consumers and the number of crimes directly related to drug addiction has decreased. At the same time, drug consumers are no longer looked upon or treated as criminals by the authorities but also by society, including their own families. They have become less dependent on traffickers and police discretion, being especially true when it comes to people with fewer resources. There was an end to thousands of criminal cases for drug consumption that cost time and money with absolutely no gain because if it is easier to know who is buying drugs, it is easier to know who is selling them.

  Why are we passing regressive laws today when nowhere has prohibition been seen to work? Why are we so intent on punishing those who need our care? Nothing but misery and waste will result from criminalising in this manner.

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