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‘New drugs approach to need legislation’
Citizens' Assembly chair Paul Reid (Pic: RollingNews.ie)

25 Jan 2024 / justice Print

‘New drugs approach to need legislation’

A report by the Citizens’ Assembly has recommended changes in legislation on the penalties for individuals caught in possession of drugs for personal use.

The report also calls for a more health-led approach to the problem of drug use – including alternatives to custodial sentences and criminal convictions within the justice system.

The Report of the Citizens’ Assembly on Drugs Use makes 36 recommendations, calling for a “pivot” from a reliance on a criminal-justice response towards “a comprehensive health-led response” to the issue.


The report says that more than 70% of the prison population of 4,700 have some form of drug addiction, and that lengthy waiting lists mean that people serving sentences of less than 12 months have little or no prospect of receiving addiction treatment.

“The assembly has also heard that a criminal record and prison sentence can, themselves, compound and exacerbate the challenges facing someone as they try to recover from addiction and reintegrate back into society,” the report states.

The report cites several examples of how the courts can effectively divert offenders away from criminal convictions and custodial sentences, but describes the use of these options across the country as “limited and sporadic, rather than mainstream and systematised”.

Restorative justice

It recommends the “formal adoption and resourcing” of alternative, health-led options for people with a drug addiction who are already within the criminal-justice system.

The assembly says that the relevant bodies – including the departments of Justice and Health, HSE, Courts Service, Irish Prison Service, Probation Service, Parole Board, and Judicial Council – should develop agreed guidelines and protocols to provide health-led options for people with drug addiction.

Another recommendation calls on the criminal-justice system to adopt the widespread use of restorative justice and diversion initiatives in cases involving young people engaged in low-level sale and distribution of drugs.

Personal use

On possession for personal use, the report also recommends a “health-led” approach, but leaves open the question of how best Ireland might legislate for this model.

“Depending on how the legislation was designed, this approach would minimise, or potentially completely remove, the possibility of criminal conviction and prison sentences for simple possession,” the report states.

In such cases, it says, a member of an Garda Síochána would refer a person found in possession for personal use directly to an intervention designed “to assess, inform, dissuade and prevent” people from developing problematic drug use, and where appropriate, offer a person an onward referral to addiction services.

Law changes

To support such an approach, the report adds that changes are likely to be required to the Misuse of Drugs Act 1977, in conjunction with the enhanced use of existing legislative provisions, such as those contained within the Probation of Offenders Act 1907.

New legislation may also be required, it adds.

Assembly chair Paul Reid said that the assembly achieved broad consensus on most issues, but highlighted a greater divergence of opinion on possible legislative changes.

“Notably, the vote on whether or not to recommend legalising cannabis came down to one single vote, showing just how divided opinion is in relation to certain issues,” he said.

Gazette Desk
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