herald

Sunday 22 September 2019

New plan to treat first-time drug offenders outside courts

Charlie Flanagan
Charlie Flanagan

People caught with small amounts of illegal drugs will be sent for mandatory addiction treatment rather than being dealt with by the courts.

Plans to be brought to the Cabinet within weeks will stop short of full decriminalisation of drugs amid concerns from Justice Minister Charlie Flanagan.

Those repeatedly caught by gardai in possession of drugs or who do not attend mandatory addiction treatment will still be dealt with by the criminal justice system and many existing drug laws are set to remain on the statute book.

"I am against the legalisation of drugs. I have a difficulty with decriminalisation of drugs that are currently illegal," Mr Flanagan told the Herald.

"I am very conscious of the damage drugs cause to society. That said, I believe there is merit in certain circumstances of a health and treatment-led approach."

The new measures will see first-time offenders caught with small amounts of drugs for personal use referred to addiction treatment services rather than being dealt with by gardai and the courts.

"It must be mandatory and if you don't attend you get redirected to the criminal justice system," a Government source said.

Cycle

The measures are aimed at breaking the cycle of drug addiction, with Health Minister Simon Harris having spoken about a policy of "the helping hand rather than the handcuff".

Responding to concerns raised by senior doctors that the Government was "sleepwalking" toward legalising the drug for medicinal purposes, Mr Harris said in May: "It's not about legalising, it's about being compassionate and it's about the helping hand rather than the handcuff."

Mr Harris and Mr Flanagan, along with Junior Drugs Minister Catherine Byrne, are planning to bring a memo drafted by their departments to Cabinet before the summer break, although it could be delayed until September.

The memo comes on foot of a report delivered to Government by a working group which was established to examine some alternative approaches to the possession of drugs for personal use.

The group, which was set up in 2017, failed to reach an agreed report on its recommendations.

The moves are separate to the medical cannabis pilot access programme, signed into law by Mr Harris last month, which facilitates access to certain cannabis-based products for medical use.

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