No Country for Auld Smokers

Nicholas looks into two recent arrests of mature cannabis users which have provided a different perspective on the type of people affected by Irish Drug Laws.

With the recent news of a 54-year-old man being convicted over €4 worth of cannabis, one has to think how much longer will this go on? The thousands of Euro spent to bring a man to justice over cannabis no bigger than the size of your fingernail.  Keep in mind, this wasn’t a case of a man enjoying cannabis recreationally. It was a case where a man was abstaining from his opiate addiction, which cannabis afforded him. He was subsequently arrested in what one could only imagine to be a triumph for An Garda Síochána.  Clearly, this man holds the same ranks as the heroin and coke dealers of this country and by making an example of him, we can all rest assured that the streets of this little country of ours are now safe. But in all seriousness, advocacy groups have called for laws surrounding possession of small amounts of drugs to be reformed in light of such laws failing to prevent drug use.

Mr. Lee, a former heroin addict, was cautious of the legally prescribed medication he was to take to refrain from his addictions.  The warrant issued to search his apartment was due to six previous convictions, all of which were for possession of cannabis. A chef and a gardener, Mr Lee suffers from osteoporosis and is currently awaiting an MRI scan. For his pain, he was prescribed an opiate-based treatment and considering his past use of heroin, Mr. Lee’s apprehension to take the medicine in favour of non-addictive treatment in cannabis is understandable.[1]  The fact this man was sitting in his own home and the courts authorised a search warrant for what turned out to be a fraction of a gram’s worth of cannabis is quite frankly embarrassing.

You would expect most civilised countries’ law enforcement wouldn’t have bothered arresting a man for such a small amount.  The Gardaí were looking for evidence of drugs with the intent to sell and failed in doing so, leading them to scrape up what they could find to justify the waste of time, money, and resources the Irish taxpayer afforded them.  Given Mr. Lee’s previous convictions and run-ins with the law, it could be said the effort put into bringing Mr. Lee to “justice” could’ve been a personal one. But then again, given the attitude most Gardaí have towards “druggies”, this may very well have just been another means of keeping busy. 

Anna Quigley of Citywide Drugs Crisis Campaign is among those who came forward to challenge the mindset of this conviction.  Quigley states no evidence criminalising individuals for possession of small amounts of drugs prevents them from using, with socio-economic factors and mental health issues more likely to play a part.

“A lot of the people who use our services have mental health issues along with their addiction… Many are using drugs to self-medicate, and the drugs can make their problem worse. So, the idea that the right response is to criminalise people like that just defies logic.”[2]

While the arrest and conviction of cannabis users in this country tends to be younger adults, it is becoming more common that we see older demographics succumb to these antiquated laws.  A case from July last year saw horticulture expert and farmer Tony Keogh, former director of Keoghs crisps, arrested and charged with the possession of what Gardaí estimated to be €20,000 worth of cannabis.  At 64 years old, he was looking to experiment with the plant to make nutritional food supplements alongside the company’s crisps. 

Originally charged with the cultivation of cannabis and unlawful possession of the plant with the purpose of sale or supply, all under the Misuse of Drugs Act, the charge of supplying was withdrawn last month along with a drastic fall from the exaggerated €20,000 he was originally charged over, to the €7,800 worth of cannabis he actually possessed.  With no prior criminal convictions, the greenhouse where Mr. Keogh cultivated his 39 plants “did not have the hallmarks of being part of a wider criminal enterprise” as stated by Garda Olan Keating of the Dublin North Crime Taskforce.  In recent weeks, the courts have also heard that Mr. Keogh bought hemp seeds lawfully but “jumped ahead” in growing the plants as nutritional food supplements, without a licence from the government, as the hemp industry grows bigger and bigger.[3]  Mr. Keogh retired from the family business in 2019 and unbeknownst to the family, he began researching medical cannabis production in the wake of the Irish government’s decision to commence the much-to-be-desired Medical Cannabis Access Programme.

In the wake of his arrest, one would expect a public relations disaster for the family-owned crisp manufacturer. But on the contrary, as seen with the change in attitudes towards cannabis, many came out in support of Mr. Keogh after an apology from the family was posted on social media. 

Playfully dubbed ‘Uncle Tony’, the reaction to his arrest serves as a reminder of the change in attitudes many people have towards cannabis and its cultivation in this country. The State-supported fear mongering of cannabis is proving itself to be a joke, as Keoghs saw a surge in sales in light of the ‘scandal’.[4]  Mr. Keogh will continue to be remanded on bail and will appear before the courts again on the 2nd of July to be served with a book of evidence.  The Keoghs brand will continue without Uncle Tony and it appears they won’t be jumping on the legalisation train anytime soon, due to their distancing from the situation.  But the news of this story has done more good than harm to the development of cannabis reform, similar to the recent news about teenage mental health and cannabis use.  Every time cannabis is brought to the discussion table, more and more people are in favour of change than those who want to keep the status quo. This is an optimistic reality going forward as the archetype criminal is no longer the face of cannabis use, as now we see a multitude of people from different ages and backgrounds getting struck by our archaic drug laws.






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