herald

Tuesday 17 October 2017

'Ecstasy' ruled legal as Dail rushes to close up loophole

Leo Varadkar
Leo Varadkar

Health Minister Leo Varadkar has admitted that "dozens" of criminal cases could be affected by the loophole in the country's drug laws.

Possession of ecstasy, magic mushrooms, so-called head shop drugs and other new psychoactive drugs will be legal until later today following a decision by the Court of Appeal yesterday morning.

The Government was forced to rush through emergency legislation in the Dail last night after the court struck down a law banning so-called legal highs.

The urgent legislation was needed after a government regulation declaring illegal a psychoactive substance sold lawfully in so-called head shops until 2011 was found to be unconstitutional.

READ MORE: Dealer held in custody despite gap in drugs law

In what the Court of Appeal said was a "constitutional issue of far-reach importance", the three-judge court unanimously said a regulation making the possession of methylethcathinone illegal was invalid.

Reacting to the judgement, Mr Varadkar said that he has been advised that the number of cases involved is "relatively small".

The Herald has learned that convictions already handed out are not open to being overturned, and the impact of the court's decision is limited to cases "which are currently in process".

Mr Varadkar said that on foot of the judgement, possession of the 70 types of drugs is not illegal, but the "sale, supply, import and export" of such substances remain against the law.

Passage of the bill through the Dail last night and the Seanad today will close the loophole that has been opened up in the law.

Mr Varadkar, a qualified doctor, urged people tempted to take such drugs last night to consider the harmful impact they may have.

He said that once it was known the case was heading for the Court of Appeal, he and his officials began drafting the emergency legislation which he said was approved by Cabinet in January.

Until the new emergency legislation is passed, possessing a range of substances including ecstasy, benzodiazepines and new psychoactive substances, so-called 'head shop' drugs, is legal.

According to the document, the judgement has no implications for the approximately 125 other substances, including cannabis, heroin and cocaine, that are outlawed by another area of the bill.

The court said Section 2 (2) of the 1977 Misuse of Drugs Act, under which the regulation was brought in, was unconstitutional because it purports to vest the Government with law-making powers which are in the exclusive authority of the Oireachtas.

The court case concerned a prosecution of a man for possession of methylethcathinone, which was among a number of substances put on the controlled drugs list in 2010.

hnews@herald.ie

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