The Government has announced significant reforms to penalties for the possession of drugs for personal use.
The move to a ‘health-led’ approach comes on foot of the report of the Working Group to Consider Alternative Approaches to the Possession of Drugs for Personal Use.
The group was set up as an action under the national drugs strategy: Reducing Harm, Supporting Recovery.
The changes come as a minority report by the chair of the working group recommended against decriminalisation.
That report warned against any changes that might normalise drug use.
There are two components to the health diversion approach, whereby a person in possession of drugs for personal use, on the first occasion, would be referred by gardai on a mandatory basis to the Health Service Executive for a health screening and brief intervention.
On the second occasion, An Garda Síochána would have discretion to issue an Adult Caution.
Health minister Simon Harris said: “This is a very significant day. For far too long, we have only looked at drug use from a criminal justice perspective.”
He added: “This approach will not decriminalise drug use; it is a mechanism to defer people to health and social services for help and support … there are no plans to legalise any type of drugs, including cannabis.”
Justice minister Charlie Flanagan thanked working group chair Judge Garrett Sheehan.
He said: “I am very pleased that we are in a position to build on the work already done to try to reduce the amount of people ending up with a criminal conviction for first-time simple drug possession offences, while at the same time continuing to take a very tough approach against those who supply those drugs to often vulnerable people in our communities."
A small implementation, monitoring and evaluation group will be set up to progress the Health Diversion Approach, with phased implementation expected to begin in Q3 of 2020.