Achtung Smokers!

Nicholas catches up with Germany’s current trajectory of cannabis reform as they advance towards decriminalising the plant as one of the most powerful members in the European Union.  But, how far long are they?

It’s an optimistic view, but by the end of the decade I believe the landscape of Europe’s relationship with cannabis will be completely overhauled.  Though probably not for the same reasons as the public as more and more financial talking heads are starting to come around to the idea of legalisation.  The profiteering the legal cannabis industry has incurred has shifted the discussion away from how dangerous legalisation would be for society to now assessing exactly how much will it generate for the economy.  The boogieman that reefer madness produced has lost its bark and now it’s a case of politicians staring straight at the economic benefits of legalisation where before, any notion was ignored with half arsed references to anti-cannabis propaganda.  

This mentality is propped up and funded by industries that look to lose out in a world where instead of drinking alcohol to take the edge off, people can choose to smoke a joint, instead of a cocktail of pain medication to alleviate chronic aches and pains, people can choose to consume cannabis infused food products which have been proven to be as effective as opioids, which are among the most potent pain-relieving drugs in the world.[1]  While the opposition continues to demonise the plant, forward thinking politicians are amassing and shedding light on the discussion as more people are beginning to look upon the situation differently.  Like a budding business would use Porter’s Five Forces to assess market conditions for a new set-up, the attitudes and stigmas associated with cannabis use are dwindling which has paved the way for governments to acknowledge the benefits it will bring but not before assessing how many markets would be affected by its legalisation.

While we wait on tender hooks for the Irish government to entertain such discussion, we can in the meantime set our sights on one of the most powerful members of the European Union.   Over the next two years, Germany is expected to become the biggest cannabis market in the world with plans to legalise the drug pressing forward despite opposition concerns over the health impact.  Approximately 4 million adults in Germany consume cannabis and Ministers say the new laws will put safety first, though if passed, it will also create opportunities for businesses potentially worth billions.[2]  So where does Germany currently stand? Let’s start with the current legal situation.

Since 2017, medical cannabis has been legal in Germany so it is possible to buy, grow or import cannabis for medical purposes.   According to the German Narcotics Act [3], authorisation is necessary for all forms of businesses with medical cannabis. The calculation of medical cannabis is handled utilizing a tender process, the German cannabis agency appointed three companies that are now allowed to grow cannabis for medical purposes in Germany in a total amount of 10,400 kilogrammes and only for four years.

Patients can have access to medical cannabis in the form of dried flower or extracts only if they have a prescription by their physician and only in case of a very serious illness, but in the case that all of these requirements are met, the patients have the right to get reimbursed by the German health insurer for cannabis therapy.  On the other hand, recreational use of cannabis is not permitted in Germany yet.  So, what is the plan to change this?  The current German government was elected in September 2021 and plans to legalise recreational cannabis in Germany.  According to the coalition treaty between the three governing parties of centre-left Social Democrats (SPD), environmentalist Greens and neoliberal Free Democrats (FDP), the government plans a controlled distribution of recreational cannabis to adults and only in licenced shops.  So, in general it’s very good news for the industry but there are many questions regarding the legalisation which are still open, for example, in which licence stores shall the cannabis be sold?

Some argue that only pharmacists shall be allowed to sell cannabis for recreational purposes because they already have experience with the plant and the professional background to oversee its retail.  But others argue that in this case, the hurdles would be too high for people to buy and with the only available legal source confined to pharmacists, it will push those to continue to purchase from the black market.  Another big problem is how the increasing demand will be met. Experts estimate that the cannabis grown in Germany would by far not be enough to meet the newly increased demand for recreational use and that Germany very much would depend on imports from other countries. However, imports and exports of recreational cannabis from other countries are forbidden at the moment by international law.  Therefore, it remains to be seen how the legalisation of recreational cannabis will be implemented in German law and what the details will look like.  Lastly, what is the current time for the legalisation?

The coalition treaty did not set a certain time frame for the realisation of the legalisation. Due to other important topics like the Ukraine crisis and the COVID pandemic, it seemed that legalisation is not the most pressing issue for the new government. However, recently it became public that the budget committee of the General Parliament put pressure on the Federal Ministry of Health by threatening to block funds in case the Health Ministry didn’t possess a draft for the legalisation by the end of the year.  So, the Ministry of Health now announced that they will publish the draft in the second half of this year, however, it will still take some time until the new law will come into force since it will have to pass the German Parliament and German Federal Council, so it may not come into force until the end of the 2023 or even 2024.

The demand for such change is compounded with a recent report on drug-related crime from the Federal Criminal Police Office which found only 1 in 6 cases of cannabis arrests are to do with drug dealing with approximately 30,000 of 190,000 cases defined as “consumption-related offenses”.  Prohibition predominately affects recreational smokers compared to the bigger fish such legislation intends to catch. 

Burkhard Blienert, of the Social Democratic Party stated “I want a regulated market. Decriminalization goes along with that,” emphasized the drug commissioner. “It is better not to break things down into individual elements now, but instead to think everything through together. We want a comprehensive result.” [4]  It’s a foregone conclusion that Germany will legalise cannabis but no one can accurately tell when.  Such a decision will no doubt have a rippling effect across the entire EU as countries dragging their heels on the issue will struggle to convince the public to remain complacent as a major success story originating from Germany may be what tips the pendulum in favour of cannabis users across Europe. 


[1] https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/322051

[2] https://mjbizdaily.com/germany-taking-safety-first-approach-to-cannabis-legalization-health-minister-says/

[3] https://www.emcdda.europa.eu/system/files/publications/11334/germany-cdr-2019_0.pdf

[4] https://www.dw.com/en/germany-will-legalize-cannabis-but-nobody-knows-when/a-62810179

Will They Ever Cop On?

Nicholas takes a look at An Garda Síochána’s recent call for action on the war on drugs, an arrest of a former superintendent and requests for more surveillance on the public.  Will they ever cop on? Or will they continue kicking the can down the road?

With the black market back up and running within hours after raids, a retired garda superintendent arrested for possession, proposals for increased surveillance and an overall oblivious approach to their war on drugs, the hi-vis protectors of the public have had quite a year.  As we battle rising costs of inflation, possible food shortages and definite housing shortages, we mustn’t ignore how Drew Harris’ bravest are coping with the increased usage of cannabis and the possible solutions they have in tackling what they consider more important than assaults, rape and robbery. 

In Galway, Garda Chief Superintendent Tom Curley has committed to directing more resources to tackle the black market.  The war on drugs has become the top priority going forward.  In justifying his stance, Mr Curley said “Only for the demand is there for illegal drugs, then the criminal gangs simply wouldn’t have the ready market available to them for the sale of those substances”.[1]  Couldn’t agree more Mr Curley.  If only there was a way of disabling the black market while providing clean, safe, regulated cannabis to the public. 

This comes after a reported increase in cases of domestic violence, cybercriminals targeting pensioners and alcohol-fuelled assaults.  But yes, the black market is the biggest threat to the citizens of Galway and requires devout attention.  While the circulation of cocaine, ecstasy and other Class A drugs are problematic in society, the criminalisation of cannabis fuels the channels that distribute them.  Eliminating cannabis from the black market altogether would weaken their position significantly as the gateway myth would be dissolved and the “war on drugs” would finally see a return on its investment.

What resources Mr Curley is referring to more than likely fall under a recently passed bill, the Garda Síochána (Functions and Operational Areas) Act 2022.[2]  The new bill recommends the granting of powers unseen in the ranks of the Gardaí.  The powers include the authority to stop and search for possession of prohibited materials along with the ability to sign off on search warrants which furthermore affords the Gardaí to exclude any legal counsel they consider to be “disruptive”. 

The law reform commission states clearly that warrants are only to be issued by the courts.  The new bill proposed a provision where garda members are enabled to issue search warrants in cases of urgent importance, contrary to the view of the Law Reform Commission.[3]  I’m sure Ireland being fast-tracked into 1984 by one of the most incompetent police forces in Europe will quell all of the problems we face today. Still, raids will continue, smokers will be prosecuted and the black market will prevail as they return to operations within the hour of a raid which is the case for residents in Limerick. [4]

Surprisingly, the Gardaí themselves aren’t being left out of the fun.  John Murphy, a 61-year-old retired Garda Superintendent was charged with possessing cannabis worth over €13,000 at his home in north Dublin under section 50 of the Criminal Justice Act 2007.  The seizure, carried out by the Garda National Bureau of Criminal Investigation discovered cannabis during search operations on September 29th 2021. He had been granted free legal aid in the realisation of a possible 10-year sentence to which he remained in custody since the initial arrest.  He pled guilty on March 24th 2022 and the Director of Public Prosecutions consented.  Mr Murphy was remanded in custody until the 4th of October when he will be formally sentenced.  No doubt, Mr Murphy stepped on the wrong toes as this is one of the very few cases with little leniency for a former Garda, especially considering his prolonged stay at Cloverhill Prison. 

Though one would expect his sentencing may very well fall under the amount the time he has spent on remand, meaning he could very well be a free man come October. A luxury not befitting of a civilian caught with the reported figure.   

The €13,000 worth of cannabis is surprising though.  Given previous estimates from An Garda Síochána’s state of the art Drug Pricing Algorithm™, Mr Murphy could have been copped for €600,000 to coincide with the €20 per gram pricing they have for the majority of their seizures.[5] Mr Murphy had €587,000 subtracted when the algorithm factored in his previous employment with the Gardaí.  Very handy.

And we can’t forget the man at the helm, Drew Harris who believes the law is too soft on drugs.  This man serves as the commissioner of a police force that shares the same island as Judge Martin Nolan.  A paedophile apologist, Judge Nolan is synonymous with light and suspended sentences for the most guttural men residing in this country.  His most recent ruling on a drug case was a 3-and-a-half-year sentence for James Cullen who was convicted of holding drugs under threat. [6]  He didn’t intend to sell or consume but this still found him receiving a relatively stark sentence compared to Judge Nolan’s most recent case regarding the assault of a child. 

A court of appeal was rejected in an attempt to jail a man who assaulted his baby daughter.  The man was given a six-month prison sentence for assaulting his partner in a separate incident and those six months were more than enough punishment.  Nolan said he was satisfied that the man never intended to harm the child despite punching her while in the hands of his partner at the time. [7]  He also sentenced a man who had attacked a toddler with a blowtorch to just 20 months in prison.[8] Yet Mr James Cullen gets 3 and a half years. Though Judge Nolan’s notoriety amassed specifically over his extremely lenient stance on child pornography.

If you’ve ever come across a news story of a suspended sentence handed down to a man convicted of distributing child pornography, you can bet it was Nolan’s call.  If you’ve ever come across a story of a judge finding it “unjust” to imprison a man found guilty of viewing child porn, you can bet it was Nolan’s sympathy.[9] Yet, drug users of Ireland are considered the worst, leading to lives irreversibly destroyed over drug convictions.  Victims of child abuse won’t be able to find any solace in the work of Drew Harris either, as the Gardaí “failed” a child abuse victim due to an insufficient investigation with the Garda Siochána Ombudsman Commission stating the failure to conduct an investigation had the effect of “leaving him to remain a risk to children”.[10]  If Mr Harris genuinely believes the state is being too soft on drugs, what in god’s name must he think of the state’s tackling of child abuse!?

As for now, we can only watch on as Germany is the latest country to deliberate on the legalisation of cannabis and unlike those that came before, Germany will have a far greater reach in demonstrating the benefits of cannabis reform in the E.U, hopefully influencing further members to follow in their footsteps.


References

[1] https://connachttribune.ie/galways-garda-chief-makes-war-on-drugs-his-top-focus-for-year-ahead/

[2] https://data.oireachtas.ie/ie/oireachtas/act/2022/7/eng/enacted/a0722.pdf

[3] https://www.irishexaminer.com/news/politics/arid-40762074.html

[4] https://www.irishexaminer.com/news/munster/arid-40768398.html

[5] https://twitter.com/rtenews/status/1444996286000816132?lang=en

[6] https://www.irishtimes.com/news/crime-and-law/courts/criminal-court/man-who-says-he-held-46k-of-drugs-due-to-threat-jailed-1.4883062

[7] https://www.independent.ie/regionals/dublin/fingal/court-of-appeal-rejects-states-attempt-to-jail-man-who-assaulted-his-baby-daughter-41303777.html

[8] https://www.irishtimes.com/news/crime-and-law/courts/circuit-court/man-jailed-for-burning-toddler-s-face-with-mini-blowtorch-1.4568525

[9] https://gript.ie/judge-martin-nolan-disgraces-himself-again/

[10] https://www.gardaombudsman.ie/news-room/archive/gsoc-publishes-its-2021-annual-report-gsoc-in-transition/

Brendan and Ryan of Crainn

Crainn (the Irish word for ‘trees’) are a cannabis advocacy group who boast Ireland’s largest online cannabis community, with over 30,000 members on their Reddit page alone. They started life there, but have since expanded their presence to Twitter and other social media outlets. Recently, on April 20th (‘420’) they organised a team of volunteers in Dublin to provide information on the benefits and potential of cannabis. In this interview, Richard is joined by Brendan and Ryan, who are both Crainn moderators.

When was Crainn first planned and what aims had you in mind for it originally?

Ryan: This is a bit of a complicated question actually, because the subreddit has been around since 2010 and I would’ve been around nine years old when it started. Richard laughs We don’t actually know who set it up originally. Someone set it up and it was sitting there with a couple of hundred members for a while. Then it got passed down to a Reddit user called Golden161 and he was running it with two guys who are still with us now. Golden161 became busier with responsibilities, so he stopped moderating the subreddit and it was left for a while. In 2017, we started rebuilding the subreddit a bit and we began to moderate it and put guidelines in place.

For a while, it was just a little forum that was a kind of free-for-all. From around 2018 onwards, we started to see a growth in engagement. That’s when members started to come in and moderating had to be taken more seriously. A little under a year ago, after a Covid lockdown when we had a really big spike in users, we said: ‘There’s a lot of people here. There’s a lot of demand for change. People want something to happen, let’s get organised.’ And that’s where we are now. Is there anything you’d like to add to that, Brendan? Brendan: Ah no, not really. I first became aware of Crainn through Reddit around 2016. I’m not a big Redditor, so I was mostly lurking, keeping my head down so to speak. During the lockdown, I got heavily involved in the history of prohibition in Ireland and that’s led me down a rabbit hole and on to political campaigning, so here I am.

Why was the name Crainn chosen?

Ryan: Are you aware of the subreddit, Trees? It’s a general cannabis subreddit. There’s different offshoots of that, like UK Trees and Canadian Trees. The lads who set it up originally wanted to make an Irish Trees, but they didn’t want to call it Irish Trees, so they called it Trees ‘as Gaeilge’ [in Irish], which is Crainn. So that’s where the name comes from.

Your subreddit was created back in November 2010. How long was it before it really started gaining recognition? Was there a point before the pandemic where mods started noticing much pickup? Ryan: I could speak to this a little bit. There’s a graph [see below] showing the subreddit subscriber growth, from when it was set up until today. It was gaining slow growth from 2010 up until Covid but when the lockdown hit in 2020, the subscriber rate went up exponentially. It doubled or tripled, it went from around 15,000 to 30,000. I think the subreddit really grew during the lockdown.

Did you focus much on promoting the subreddit to gain members yourselves, or has it mainly been an organic growth in your experience? Ryan: We’ve never promoted the subreddit, bar the stickers we did a while ago. People just come to it. It grows organically on Reddit. I think it’s the only significant thing that’s on Reddit for cannabis in Ireland, to be honest. Reddit is probably one of the few social media channels where people can publicly talk about cannabis without fear of being banned. It makes sense that it would gain a large following there. Brendan: My intro to the Crainn subreddit stemmed from my involvement on Discord with people in the US and Canadian cannabis scenes. Things have been largely normalised in those regions for a while. Lockdown left me looking for what’s there in terms of an Irish cannabis community. It’s one of the things that brought me on to Reddit

Do you guys feel that Reddit going public has had any effect on how subreddits are moderated? Do you feel that site mods have come down more harshly on cannabis-related content? Ryan: It’s funny that you mention that. We’ve always been on Reddit’s good side because of how well we moderate according to the terms of service there. On the subreddit, you’re not allowed to ask: ‘Where can I buy cannabis? Can I sell you some cannabis? Can we meet up and trade cannabis?’ It’s illegal, so we don’t allow it. We’re always on top of that. But recently, in the States, there’s been a ban on sending vapes out in the post. This includes dry herb vapes, CBD vapes, all of that. Any subreddit relating to vaporisers has been wiped out or put on lockdown, we noticed that straight away. We have to put new rules in place whenever Reddit clamps down.

We’re now not allowing people to buy, trade or sell vaporisers on Crainn. If they do, we have to remove their posts. We need to keep on top of Reddit’s terms of service and make sure we moderate within those limits – then we’re on their good side. Reddit going public has had an effect on moderation, because we increasingly need to keep an eye out [for updates to the terms]. We actually have a bigger problem with Instagram. Our Instagram was taken down for posting about cannabis. We never posted a picture or anything like that, only infographics and we still got taken down. And we haven’t heard anything back. Luckily, Reddit isn’t that bad. If it was, we would be long gone, because people like posting their bongs and everything like that. If you posted that on Instagram, you’d be gone in an hour.

How was Crainn’s experience of partaking in 420 events this year, in Dublin and online? Ryan: On April 20th, we were in town volunteering and the experience was great. It was our first time actually getting out there doing an event like that, in person. Roughly how many people were involved in the volunteer team? There were about eight to ten people at any given time, because certain individuals were also getting involved in other things. I’d never met a lot of them in my life, but I knew a lot of them for a long time online. I was meeting them in person and getting the high vis [jacket] on and talking to people and seeing everyone’s different knowledge bases, ‘cause everyone was into different things. One of the lads was really into the medical side of things, one of them was really into hemp. It was good to get out there and see that and connect with people, not just from the cannabis community. The older generation were a lot more receptive to our campaign than I thought they’d be. They were really into it. It must be because of CBD interest nowadays. They were saying, ‘I’d love to try that, people are telling me to try it.’ I was surprised by it, because you often hear from the community online that the older generation are holding us back, and that is true to an extent, but when we were out on the streets campaigning, they were really into it. To be honest with you, it was an excellent experience and it was eye-opening in some ways. 

We were at the picnic as well, which was hosted by the Major Group for Cannabis Reform [on Saturday the 23rd]. We just went to that as civilians, I suppose you could say. Brendan: It was my second year at it. I went to their event last year as well, which was under much more restrictive terms. But it was during one of the gaps in the [Covid-19] lockdowns, so it was all sort of manageable. The turnout this year, I thought, was a bit down on last year. It was a good event, although it was a little chilly, in my mind. As Ryan was saying, you’d get to put eyeballs on people you know online. We might have known each other for years, but it was our first opportunity to meet in some cases, so it was really good in that way. And I think that this sort of thing is very important actually, because it’s beginning to normalise [cannabis use] within our own community. Self-stigma is holding us back a lot of the time, we’re afraid to talk about it. This is a perfectly normal thing for grown-ups to do in a lot of parts of the world, to consume cannabis.

Did you notice any growth at all in media or political attention relating to this year’s Irish 420 events? Brendan: Yeah, I definitely did. I think the attendance was down a bit because Dua Lipa was in Dublin on 420 and the following day, while Ed Sheeran was on the 23rd and 24th. There was a lot on that week. Luke ‘Ming’ Flanagan was at the Major Picnic, as was Gino Kenny. Luke gave a really good speech, there was some beat poetry on the day. It was good, it was well-ran, they marshalled it well, the park was left tidy. The guards weren’t in evidence, but I’m sure they were there. The organisers had clearly gotten the necessary approvals because there was a PA system and various other things that couldn’t be facilitated last year when they were there. I think more of these kinds of events are necessary actually, to bring people together, out of their shells. In some ways, as well, if you’re looking at drug use in general – it’s better that it’s a shared experience, in terms of health and attitudes and understanding what you’re doing and safe consumption.

Ryan: I noticed RTÉ covered the Major Picnic, which was good to see. Brendan: Yeah! It actually made the news, which I think was a first. It hadn’t been covered the previous year, even though there was a substantial turnout. Ryan: I think overall, there was a lot of media coverage on 420-related events this year. There was the Crainn info day, the protest and the Major Picnic. So there were different outlets picking out different parts of what was going on, which made it a little bit more spread out. There were a couple of articles on the info day that were put out pre-empting it, by District and Buzz, who did great coverage. Then, after the fact, RTÉ was there doing their own little bits and bobs. So it was actually quite good.

We were hyping the info day up for a while as well, to try and get it out there. I think that if events like this are happening, especially on 420, do a lot of planning and try to get the word out there and the media are gonna follow. They need stories to cover. Cannabis stuff is a kind of fringe topic and it’s exciting to cover and it gets clicks. So I think the more events there are, the better. Brendan: Yeah. I think Ryan’s hit on a really important point there, actually. One of the problems we’ve got is that cannabis reports of busts and raids and things generate huge amounts of clicks for the media industry, so they want to cover stories in a certain way because they get a lot of page impressions. But cannabis in general will get you the page impressions at this stage, so give them good content that’s not necessarily somebody having their life changed for half a gram and the coverage will follow, I hope.

Have Crainn got any interesting campaigns in the works that you’d like to share with us? Ryan: I can speak to this a little bit. I don’t want to give too much away, but we are planning to do some more events in person. We’d like to do another info day and we’re having a few more online events as well, but we’re not going to announce them just yet. We’re just gonna wait till we have everything ready, but there is stuff for the cannabis community in Ireland to keep an eye out for, we’re looking forward to it. We’re taking part in the Patients for Safe Access national conference [June 11th], as speakers. That’s not our project, but we’re happy to get up there and speak and try to help give them a voice. We have our own things planned as well, so just keep an eye out for some more things we’ll announce, hopefully in the near future. Perfect, looking forward to that!

How do you see yourselves helping to increase support for cannabis reform in the future? What’s next in the development of Crainn? Ryan: I think to help to increase support you just need to have the facts on your side. One of the pillars of the Crainn organisation is education, we place major importance on it. We try our best to make sure we’re talking facts and making sense. We always have a study or a source if we’re making a point on Twitter or on Reddit, so we can refer to it. Because sometimes you will have people saying, ‘That’s nonsense’. But you can say: ‘This is where we got it from. Feel free to have a look at it and come back to us if there’s anything else.’ We need to have education, because it is an emotional topic. You feel like you’re getting wronged with the current laws. But at the end of the day, you need to have the facts, because the people you’re up against have qualifications, sometimes.

People such as Bobby Smyth and the Cannabis Risk Alliance. They have the qualifications, but oftentimes they don’t have the facts. So we need to present the data and say: ‘What can you say about this? Teen use is dropping in various legalised states in America. This is how we protect young people – not by banning it, by legalising it.’ That’s just one example. Brendan: I think we’ve all heard our various government advisors speaking in radio interviews and things in recent years. And quite often, when it actually comes to facts, they will tell you stuff with their professional hat on. When questioned by the journalist about it, they’ll say: ‘Oh, well just Google it.’ But we need better than that. There’s a huge amount of harm being done, I think, in the teenage to early college years age group at the moment, particularly post-lockdown.

The supply chains have been very badly damaged. Synthetics, which were a problem prior to lockdown, are now endemic across pretty much everything, except for [cannabis] flower. And even flower is contaminated at times. These are really genuinely dangerous substances that are harming people, so we have to educate. This shouldn’t be our role. A health-led policy should mean that we are making moves in the right direction, but we’re not at the moment. Another thing I personally find shocking is that the Director of Public Prosecutions delegates all the small case stuff completely to the Gardaí. Where is the public interest oversight that this Director is supposed to have? It looks like we’ve got a bunch of laws that are running on autopilot because it suits certain people. And politically, there’s an utter unwillingness to touch them.

Where would you see the development of Crainn happening in the short to medium term future? Ryan: We have projects that we’re working hard on. One of the things that Brendan touched on is synthetics. We want to become an educational force on what’s going on in Ireland. There’s a big problem with Spice edibles going around, which you’re probably aware of from social media, but it’s being completely under-reported. This is what the government should be doing. ‘There’s synthetic cannabis here, this is what it looks like. This is what it does to you, avoid it.’ And we want to just keep doing what we’re doing – educating, normalising, developing a great community that’s collaborating and helping each other out. We want sensible reform.

Brendan: Normalisation is, in effect, what the current drugs policy is fighting against. It’s got its targets on that. It’s like trying to hold a tide back though, because the forces of normalisation are coming from everywhere now. They’re coming from Canada and the US and soon from Malta and Europe and other places. Ireland will look like a backwater. I’ve tweeted about the original debate on the [Irish] Misuse of Drugs Act and it has got some real gems in it. It wasn’t a black and white debate at all. The people who made certain decisions that have left us where we are now were told by senior politicians of the day what the outcomes would be, including the negative impacts on the justice system. There’s actually quite a contrast if you look at the debate that took place around Ming’s [2013] Bill. The government didn’t read it, they just ridiculed it. But I’ve a feeling they won’t get away with that again when Gino’s Bill goes forward.

We’ve seen under a freedom of information request that the government has been trying to keep cannabis entirely out of the Citizens’ Assembly [on Drugs] process. There’s not a chance of that happening. It feels again like there’s some tyre-kicking going on. Ryan: When this Bill comes to the Dáil and it’s debated, I don’t think politicians will get away with spouting misinformation anymore. I think that the climate’s changed. If they come out talking rubbish, people are going to call them out on it. Brendan: I don’t know, I think they might well carry on talking rubbish for a while, It’s hard to say.

Something you touched on earlier, Ryan, was that the older age group seemed a lot more open to cannabis than expected. With my age group, starting with people slightly younger than me, that’s when the bullshit in terms of drug education really began. The ‘Just Say No’ stuff. And the people who are a little bit older than me come from a time where we had quite a different justice system that wasn’t so focused on prosecuting – it was much more focused on diversion. There was a different culture towards justice at the time. Really, the war on drugs weaponised everything. And if you look at what various Ministers of Justice have done with it over the years, it’s revitalised the careers of many a failing Minister, by giving them something to ‘be tough on’.

Let’s hope Ryan is right and that politicians won’t get away with ignoring cannabis data and misinforming the public any more. Thanks so much for your time this evening gentlemen. All the best with Crainn moving forward!

 

Eoin Long of The Cannabis Review

In The Cannabis Review, Eoin Long talks with leading figures in commercial cannabis. The show has a stated aim of educating viewers while clarifying ‘some of the sectors and topics of interest in the global cannabis industry’. The YouTube channel launched in February of 2021, where he has interviewed the likes of Dr. Peter Grinspoon, Mitchell Osak, JP O’Brien of Little Collins CBD, Jim Weathers of Puff N’ Stuff, Matthew O’Brien of The Green Paper and many others from around the globe.

What inspired you to start The Cannabis Review?

It was initially set up two years ago as a project for one of my companies, and it ended up turning into a great source of data and information and a way to connect with industry leaders.

I got to realise, ‘I don’t need money to pay for this to be made and I know how to do everything myself’, so I just started cherry-picking people of great knowledge in the industry I wanted to learn from. I thought: ‘What do I want to know about the sectors that are going to be the areas of interest?’ Over the course of time, I’ve built up a pretty strong global network and an ability to see what’s coming around the corner. The aim of The Cannabis Review is to help educate and inform both the consumer and the entrepreneur in the industry, in any way I can.

In your view, how strong is cannabis activism in Ireland?

Activism in Ireland is very strong. The folks that do it need to be commended; Martin, for example, who does Martin’s World, Natalie O’Regan, Cork Cannabis Activist Network, JP & Íde at Little Collins, Jim at Puff n’ Stuff, the Crainn folks plus a host of other determined people. There’s a lot of work they are doing now where they are putting themselves at risk, and most are not getting any financial reward for doing this. They are doing this because they believe it is the right thing. That has to be commended, no matter what side of the fence you sit on. For a businessman like myself who wants the industry legalised, you need more people like that. I would like to point out the likes of Luke Flanagan [independent], Gino Kenny [People Before Profit], Neasa Hourigan [The Green Party], and Lynn Ruane [independent]. These politicians will be remembered and appreciated for a long time for the work they are doing to help our community.

I find The Cannabis Review more accessible than many other shows of a similar nature, due to its length. Was that a strategic decision on your part?

It was, yes. I had looked at a lot of the shows and felt this was a more suitable model for educating myself and fellow entrepreneurs. You manage to get straight to the point this way. The guests have also commented on how nice the short time frame is and that it doesn’t become boring or over-complicated. There are very few good cannabis shows or podcasts out there and I aim to build TCR up over the coming years. The way you get good at something is by talking to people who are very knowledgeable in specific disciplines and that helps you round off your structure of knowledge. That is the way I have treated this show for myself. If other people are benefiting from watching the episodes, then that is great. I’ve been doing The Cannabis Review for two years and talking to some of the biggest CEOs in the world. And I’m only scratching the surface of how big this industry will be.

If you had to choose a few guests from The Cannabis Review who you found to be the most interesting personally, who would they be and why?

The number one is definitely Dr. Peter Grinspoon, who is a medical GP. The episode I did with him was Cannabis and Pain, and I think everybody seems to have liked that one. That one had the most knowledgeable medical professional I have spoken with to date. Somebody who is bonafide. His father [Lester] was in this space as well. He was just one of those people where you couldn’t not respect or be in awe of the information he possessed. There’s another gentleman then called Matt Lamers, who covers international business for MJBiz Daily. Matt, to me, is the best source of cannabis information and knowledge in the business world, especially when it comes to the Canadian MSOs. He’s one of the smartest and nicest guys, I had him on the show as well and everything that he posts is pretty much always on point. 

For you, what have been the most exciting developments in the cannabis industry over the past few years?

I think biotechnology will change the game to a degree, with the use of microorganisms capable of fermenting cannabinoids in bioreactors, exactly how they make beer. I think that’s the future for a lot of the ingredients side of the industry – a lot of the activity is going to end up being in that space, due to potential scalability, purity, safety of the end product, IP-able methods and the price per litre versus a farm grown method. The second thing I would probably say is, New York. One cannot underestimate how important New York’s legalisation is for Ireland. Whatever about Germany and Malta starting their processes, you still see unclear language from the three coalition Parties in Germany trying to get this over the line, but New York has moved swiftly, with stores opening in Autumn or earlier. They have enacted a lot of public service projects, in terms of people with weed-related convictions who are now allowed to apply for cannabis licences.

There is a lot of good being drafted into their Bills and the people in charge of the various departments seem to be very smart. Plus, Ireland and New York have a special relationship. I think the more it grows over there, where you will start seeing that it’s four to five billion a year in turnover, you are going to start seeing moves being made here. The capitalist model is to expand and to grow and to acquire new consumers and new markets. We are in a good space. Germany is going to legalise recreational use and New York is almost ready to open with their industry. Slowly but surely, those big companies will begin to want to take more territory and to start moving towards Ireland.

I see Ireland being a gateway into Europe for a lot of the North American companies and I think that’s the way Ireland should be positioning itself. We have got a very skilled, intelligent young workforce over here. There’s a reason Google and all major North American companies operating in Europe are headquartered here and I don’t think the cannabis companies will be any different. That is not to say we won’t have our own hugely successful global cannabis companies. That is for certain, in my opinion. Who those entrepreneurs will be is still up for grabs.

Are there any stand-out cannabis companies you see as having especially exciting potential, in Europe or further afield?

There are a good number of exciting cannabis companies, and you kind of need to fine-tune it down into each sector – is it the edibles market, the vape category, hemp and construction? There’s Hempflax. They are a pretty amazing company that I think is going to revolutionise industrial hemp in construction. BioHarvest Sciences can make the cannabis plant in a bioreactor without using cultivation methods. You have Prūf Cultivar in Oregon and The Werc Shop in California. Bhang is another, Cann Drinks will be a global brand. For Europe, the market is so early that I believe the most exciting companies are still to come. What I’m looking forward to seeing is the first real brand that comes out of Ireland. I think Ireland has got a Kerrygold or a Guinness [of cannabis] in it, and I’m looking forward to seeing who gets that up and running. Look what we did with alcohol, do you think we cannot do the same in this industry?

Yeah. It’ll be interesting to see how soon that can become a reality. It often feels like our government drags their heels with all of this.

Yeah, but this is another thing that people are getting annoyed about. People are getting annoyed at politicians who know nothing, you know? Richard laughs I feel sorry for Frank Feighan [Minister with responsibility for drug policy] now at this stage, with the amount of abuse that he seems to get on Twitter. But at the same time, they’ve signed up for this game. They’re public servants, so everyone’s within their rights to be contacting them and telling them how they feel about a specific topic. And that’s just tough, they have got to take it. But at the same time, I think there needs to be a level of realism about who the decision makers are. You hardly think Stephen Donnelly is going to be the Minister for Health in three, five years time? When the next election comes, there will be a shuffle in the cabinet and he won’t be in that same position. So, to waste all the efforts on that individual.. he’s not doing it within three years, not from what I can see.

Barring it becoming this new piece of their election campaign, where one of the smarter Parties picks it up. Until we get to the next election, we won’t know. And that’s why a Citizens’ Assembly can be pushed off until then, because the election campaign comes around mid-2023 for the 2025 election. You’ll have a good year and a half of whether they are going to bring that into a campaign that they will go around trying to get the young vote with, or if it will just be disregarded by the Parties again. I reckon that by 2025, New York will be three years legal. There will be [cannabis industry] people chomping at the bit to get into this country. Anybody with any sort of common sense in our government will support this industry then. We know the Revenue people would love to have the tax revenue from this. We know a lot of the people in the Department of Justice would like to lessen the petty crime cases, which are a nonsensical waste of time and resources for Gardaí. And it appears that a number of influential individuals in politics who are outdated in their thinking process are able to hold this whole process back.

How do you think cannabis misinformation in the media can be more effectively tackled?

The mainstream media really have no clue about the cannabis industry outside of 420 and the munchies and the usual stereotypes. They just write pieces based on second hand information. People on both sides react to it and they have succeeded in their job as a modern journalist, which is to get a reaction, good or bad. Journalism used to be about informing the public with real information. Tell me when have you ever seen a real investigative journalism piece on cannabis in Ireland? The other day, RTÉ posted an article about seized plants that were not even grown, which Gardaí claimed had an estimated value of €200,000. It was so embarrassing to see that. Who in their right mind cleared that article? It was a downright lie, published seemingly without question by our national broadcaster.

There are a number of good sites popping up to help with cannabis misinformation and one of my recent guests, Professor Dan Bear, has a new site & Twitter account – I would suggest that people check those out. Ireland definitely needs a source which calls out misinformation in this manner. 

When do you see cannabis being fully legalised in Ireland, realistically?

How far down the line do you think that will be?

I would say 2027/2028. If you go to the next election, let’s say that is in 2025.. Let us say there is a Party going: ‘Right, we’re legalising cannabis.’ And they win. It’s at least one to two years of paperwork and taxation laws being constructed. What department is it under? What are the taxes and laws? So, they’re going to have two years of politicking, and everybody figuring things out. They are going to need a cannabis board, they are going to need professionals in all the different sectors, they are going to need to start the licensing process. Cannabis Compliance Ireland, the lobbying firm that I co-founded – we already have all that built and ready to go. We sent a proposal document to all the government officials, about three years ago, for how to develop and enforce a legal cannabis industry in Ireland. I have talked to all the Department heads over in Colorado, California, Oregon, New York plus many more about how to design licensing and taxation systems. So we have all that information already, in our pocket. 

Cannabis Compliance Ireland, when everything gets legalised… There won’t even be a company close to the amount of information, data and connections that we’ll have built up over time for our country. You’ll be ready at the outset. That’s five years experience so far, we’ve got multiple databases built out and we have already designed numerous types of industry policy and taxation papers that could be used in Ireland. If the government decides to legalise cannabis we will have everything ready for them to utilise from taxation to licensing and duty, to import, export, financial support and social equity programmes. We have all the boring information and policy that will make the Irish industry ready to go. I believe Ireland has some of the best entrepreneurs in the world and our island will be the gateway to Europe for all the North American companies in this sector. It is up to us to build the companies and services to compete.

Beyond contacting local TDs, what else would you advise people to do to get the cannabis discussion off the ground properly in Ireland? 

Well, first and foremost, I think we need to start having good events. And that’s hopefully something that we’re going to start looking at at the start of 2023, maybe starting with some of the great guests we have already had on The Cannabis Review. I am going to bring over a select few from a couple of different industries and disciplines and invite a number of politicians and policymakers along as well. It will show everybody that this is how you create a company in this industry and these are the experts within a couple of different disciplines who are going to give a brief presentation and outline what needs to be done to be successful.

Because this is business now. It’s not the cannabis industry, it is business. And to run any business you need to know your product, your consumers and the rules and regulations. You need to be researching and developing your ideas and your products continuously, because there’s no guarantee for success in anything. But the harder you work at something, the better a chance you’ll have of it working. I can’t wait to hear your updates on those events. By the way, I am going to be turning The Cannabis Review into its own media website soon. It will have its own bi-weekly newsletter. It will be a source of news and information on the New York, Irish and European industries, with a section for stocks, op-eds, top weekly stories and all of that sort of stuff.

That’s what we need more than anything in Ireland, a de facto source of information that is consistently up to date. That sounds great, best of luck with that! It sounds like you’ve got very exciting plans for the future. We’re looking forward to hearing about those as they develop. Thanks again and take care! See you!

My First Toke: From Environment to Etiquette

My First Toke: From Environment to Etiquette

In the future, I’d like to think first-time smokers will be introduced to cannabis in a completely different environment. But unfortunately, it will be a long time coming as many newcomers will have to endure the touch and go setting of the black market. In a legalized, regulated Ireland, first-time smokers will have safe access to the plant and will be able to benefit from its properties more safely and appropriately. Due to the fact that they will know exactly the strain and potency of the cannabis they are smoking. This can’t be said for those of us back in the day or currently for that matter.  For my generation, we had to go through the necessary channels to access the drug to experiment for ourselves. As a result, many of us have found ourselves in situations that weren’t particularly safe, but alas, at the time this was the only method at our disposal.

In my case, thankfully it was nothing drastic. Though, looking back I have to wonder how much worse it could’ve been. My story begins conveniently under a bridge, smoking my first hash joint.  As is the case for many who need to shield themselves from the public eye before embarking on their first journey with cannabis.  For many of my generation in the 2000s, ghost sites where construction had come to a halt and derelict uncomplete houses were left behind leaving ample spots to smoke were the best locations.  For me though, it was with two ‘friends’ from school, one of which was well versed in the area of cannabis resin. We climbed over a wall and made our way down a riverbank, to which there was a ledge that we could prop ourselves on away from the stream flowing below us. From there, we watched the ‘friend’ that had procured the hash slit a cigarette to dump its tobacco into a three-skinner rollie he had made moments prior. 

We watched in awe as he filled the skin with the tobacco and then slowly burnt the hash with his lighter which allowed small little nuggets to break away from the eighth that we were all there for. I still remember the smell singeing from the hash. It is a smell that I’m not particularly fond of even today as the most vivid memory of my first time was how harsh the toke was.  But this couldn’t happen before the joint roller had the first pull, as were the rules you see.  Many, many rules were formulated in the culture of teenagers chasing the magic dragon, rules that I never want to hear about again.  He was the first to spark up before giving it to my ‘friend’, who took a few more tokes before passing it to me. I inhaled and exhaled. Coughing a little bit as I hadn’t lost myself to nicotine just yet meaning my virgin lungs weren’t equipped to take the puff like the champions sitting next to me under that bridge.  My coughing, of course, was met with roaring laughter from my two associates, who clearly forgotten we were meant to be incognito for the duration of our smoke but had no qualms about letting anyone passing above us know that there were teenagers up to no good underneath them. As you might have noticed from my use of putting ‘friends’ in quotations, there was very little concern for how I was dealing with the harshness of the smoke.  I don’t remember much else other than really playing up the act of feeling high. I still don’t know why I did that. I assume it’s because I was trying something new and had consumed so much stoner media that may be a placebo effect took over and in wanting to enjoy it more, I played up its effect on me? I’m not sure. I was a dumb 15-year-old.  

Still though, even then, I felt that I could have been with people more enjoyable to smoke with. Honestly, I don’t remember much from my first time other than the circumstances in which I smoked it. I would have longed for an opportunity to smoke indoors with a group of people that were all in the same boat as opposed to the hierarchy of experience I was subject to.  Instead, my adolescence was confined to the 2000s when one-upmanship was the go-to method to signal how masculine you were.  I won’t dispute this is no longer the case but, in my hometown, it was a lot more prevalent when the mid-2000s culture afforded it. 

This was the culture surrounding weed, where your mate pulling a ‘whitey’* was seen as a great source of entertainment.  Instead of looking after one another and making sure everybody was accounted for, smoking games would break out.  One of the games I always hated playing was called Around the World, a game whereupon you take a pull from the joint and keep the smoke in your lungs until the joint has passed around to every individual in the circle where it makes its way back to you to which you can finally exhale only to start the whole ordeal all over again.  I don’t exactly remember the penalty for exhaling before the joint reached you again but I do know it was just another mechanism for certain people in the group to capitalize on those in their worst moments and encourage them to not pace oneself to enjoy it for all its worth.  This was far removed from how the characters in Richard Linklater’s Dazed and Confused acted while enjoying a joint amongst one another.

I thankfully never found myself in a situation where I got sick, but I have been exposed to those who have and it was this type of competitive behaviour, the bullying, the intimidation, that cultivated an atmosphere where you gained satisfaction from another person’s suffering. That left a bad taste in my mouth regarding the weed culture for teens. It was only until I got older that I realized that I had been introduced to the drug through individuals that, let’s say, aren’t of the most trustworthy character. Shocker I know. 

I didn’t expect myself to be smoking with bleeding heart empaths for the first time, but at the very least I expected concern for how I was doing.  It should come as no surprise that those I experienced my first joint with are no longer on speaking terms with me, not due to any negativity or in-fighting, but rather we were simply not the same people. And by growing and maturing, we went in completely opposite directions. One of the most potent memories I have of my early years of smoking was the price. I became aware very quickly that drug dealers, especially when you’re a teenager, have little to no respect.

This obviously came in the form of getting ‘maced’.  The art of getting screwed out of your money.  Keep in mind, my first time as a smoker, Ireland was a different place in regards to the accessibility of cannabis.  It’s crazy to think of a time when the only cannabis product you could acquire was cannabis resin.  Instead of being handed a bag of oregano to pass off as weed, I vividly remember being handed my first soap bar which had the complexion of a balled-up play-dough. Though yet it smelled exactly as it should. It wasn’t until I smoked it that I realized that I had been conned, such is the life of being a teenage black-market customer. What was I going to do about it? Complain to my mother? This of course wasn’t the last time either.

Sure, you’re aware the black market isn’t exactly known for its professional integrity. It wasn’t until my mid to late 20s that I finally found a dealer that was more concerned about the well-being of his customers. While he didn’t have access to information regarding the strain or potency of the weed on offer, he at the very least knew which types would suit each customer.  While Ireland in 2004 is a far cry from Ireland in 2022, one thing that hasn’t changed is the reality that drug dealers only want to make a quick buck. 

I would have hoped by now things were different for younger people, but in a lot of ways, I should be thankful for the timing of my introduction to weed. Currently, there is a minefield to sift through for new smokers as synthetic weed has been making the rounds to which drug dealers have no shame or remorse when passing it off as real cannabis.  As a result, there are higher chances of first-time smokers ingesting this fake cannabis leading to severe psychosis problems and other mental health issues that this artificial strain induces. Obviously, the strength of weed has increased over the years, which is something that many first-time smokers will have to experience the hard way. Drug dealers are only interested in making a profit, and if that means selling a highly potent cannabis strain to a first-time smoker then so be it, because all that matters is that they get paid. 

My experiences with weed never affected my judgement of the plant itself, only the behaviour of the individuals I was smoking with.  I could only dream of discovering cannabis in a legal regulated environment as I imagine the atmosphere, attitude and overall experience would be far more enjoyable and remembered more fondly than the memories I have.

*a term for one’s skin tone when in the midst of getting sick after consuming too much cannabis

My Introduction to Cannabis

Richard reminisces on his year in San Francisco, where he embraced cannabis use as part of the cultural experience and realised what he had been missing out on for years. [All photos below were taken by the author]

In my teens, I bought into the ‘cannabis as a gateway drug‘ myth. I was hesitant when it came to drinking alcohol as well. When schoolmates began dabbling with booze, I wondered why suddenly they always felt the need to be seen with it, getting drunk at every other get together. I wasn’t really religious, but in my head I thought I’d probably keep the pledge I’d made on my Confirmation not to drink alcohol, as a discipline thing. That fell by the wayside at age seventeen, when I got sick of abstaining during a music festival. But my lack of personal interest in weed would continue through college. Certain school friends and acquaintances became very interested in it during those years and were harder for me to get a hold of socially, although this was partially due to differing life circumstances and social circles. When I was with them I had no issue with the smoking, but it often felt like we were on different wavelengths (which of course, we were!) This was partially because I was still a bit wary of weed, as I had been taught to be. I once had a foreign roommate on a work placement abroad who was fairly annoying a lot of the time, and he was more or less always stoned. On one of his first days there, he lay despairing on his bed for ages because he was out of ganja. It must’ve been a rare supply gap for him, but being around him for months didn’t necessarily sell me on smoking weed either! (If you were curious, he got hooked up with more through a workmate later that day).

Flash forward some time to a year where I was living in San Francisco, California. I worked at a few bars within a larger bar company. Seemingly everyone in the industry there enjoyed a regular smoke and those who partook often had such positive, upbeat auras that I was beginning to think that maybe I should try some! One night as we were cleaning and closing a bar I worked at, it came up in conversation that I’d never tried weed and my workmate promptly told me that I’d be smoking with him and the manager after work. After a while, we stood around chatting on Columbus Avenue and passed a joint around. I’ll always remember a faintly tingly, numb sensation I started feeling along my upper neck to where it connects with the head, as the high began kicking in. It was a pleasant little signal I’d anticipate every time I smoked. As it hit me, my enthusiasm for our conversation was amplified and I felt a general sense of calm. Gradually, I found it harder to make sense of all that was being said in conversation and I felt concerned that I’d start sticking out like a sore thumb. I probably made a few semi-relevant remarks and jokes as vain attempts to stay part of a conversation that suddenly felt alien to me. It got to a point where I decided I was too confused to keep track and that I’d order an Uber home. I must’ve toked too much, too soon… Regardless, I loved the relaxing, cerebral new buzz I gained from cannabis that evening and I looked forward to getting high again.

I discovered it was fairly commonplace at work for staff and managers to enjoy cheekies (half shots of tequila, mezcal, whiskey or other spirits, but seldom upper shelf stuff) to keep morale high, particularly during busier shifts. We’d do a toast, knock ’em back and get right back to work. A few nights each week after closing time, staff would hang out at a company bar after hours with the music up really loud, often with workmates from other company bars stopping by. We’d drink Millers High Life stubbies, smoke weed and perhaps indulge in more cheekies. When she heard I’d developed an interest in weed, one colleague who would become a close friend of mine gave me a number, saying to text it with my first name and to explain that it was she who gave me the number, before asking: ‘What’s on the menu today?’ Upon doing so, I was sent a menu du jour with the flower strains and concentrates on offer and how much they’d cost in different amounts. This menu changed each day and I’ll never forget placing my first order and asking where I could meet the dealer, only for him to say: ‘Where can I meet you?’ How considerate! These weren’t shady, dodgy-looking guys either – they were ordinary-looking fellas on bikes. It really says something about how widespread cannabis is there, when buying from the black market guys is that convenient!

Though not without its social issues, San Francisco is a beautiful place (as are the breathtaking natural parks and coastal drives of greater California, but that’s another story!) Whether you’re trekking around Ocean Beach and the Sunset district, eating out in North Beach or Chinatown, browsing the hippie-themed Haight-Ashbury district or exploring the beautiful, vast Golden Gate Park (20% bigger than New York’s Central Park), there’s a lot to it. Cannabis gifted me another level of appreciation for these places. There are scenic views from parks and hills there that I’ll always think back on fondly. But I didn’t just smoke up sociably – getting high at home to derive more wonder from my introvert pastimes had great benefits too. I’d really zone in on the ambience of music and all the intricacies of its production. Music such as Anderson Paak‘s soulful Malibu album, which I got to see live at The Fillmore theatre, or A Tribe Called Quest‘s long-awaited comeback album, We Got It From Here I would become super-immersed in YouTube, films and handheld video games, and I’d feel so grateful for all of the marvellous, complex visual art humans have created. Food would taste more mouth-watering than ever before. Add to all of this the agreeable weather and the generally friendly people of the Bay Area and it’s an ideal place to develop an appreciation of cannabis.

Because I never liked cigarettes, I had no experience rolling papers and was therefore terrible at it, so I opted to buy a pipe. I never felt any urge to mix tobacco with my weed and to this day I still don’t use it; even if it does extend the life of a limited weed supply, or allow for a less potent smoke. Sadly, here in Ireland the weed is criminally expensive (forgive the pun!) and you never have any knowledge of what it is you’re buying. This is thanks to the Irish government and their insistence on upholding prohibition, where weed and many other drugs are left completely unregulated! I’ve heard horror stories about the weed here too. One example would be weed being sprayed with an unknown ‘hairspray-like’ chemical to make it extra sparkly, as a false indicator of quality…

I don’t want to smoke that!!

If there’s anything I took from my year in San Francisco, it’s the realisation that countless kind, intelligent, productive, ambitious, hard-working and athletic people live their lives successfully while benefitting from cannabis, often using it on a regular basis. While I was there, it began dawning on me how ridiculous and immoral it is for authorities to continue demonising this plant and making it out to be a dark, nefarious substance that will somehow lead you down a road of self-destruction. In my experience, this plant helps people to connect. It helps people to tolerate and get through difficulties. It can help mentally, physically, medicinally. In essence, it helps with our enjoyment and appreciation of life. Because of this, I’ll always be thankful of San Francisco for such an enlightening introduction.

No Stopping Now

Nicholas takes a look back at 2021 up until today and how cannabis legislation has progressed throughout the world.

2021 saw many developments in the reform of cannabis legislation across multiple countries.  We observed as America flourished in the wake of numerous states legalising cannabis and watched as Canada cultivated their regulated cannabis industry into one of the biggest revenue sources for the country.  Now, we are starting to see change across the world. Most recently in Malta. While the Netherlands is famous for its coffee shops where cannabis can be openly sold and consumed, Malta will be the first country in the E.U to legalise cannabis, at least in small amounts.

It is a debate that has persisted for decades, is cannabis a harmless recreational substance, certainly no more dangerous than alcohol or tobacco or is it a gateway drug that can have long term damaging effects, particularly on the young? For the lawmakers in Malta, the answer seems to be the former as they have voted to legalize cannabis, allowing adults to carry up to seven grams and grow up to four plants at home. The decision has afforded Malta to curb drug trafficking by making sure that people who use cannabis now have safe and regulated access to the plant.

Supporters of the reform celebrated amongst Malta’s Equality Minister, Owen Bonnici who promoted the legislation, stating the country has chosen a harm reduction approach to tackle its drug abuse and it will stop the criminalisation of otherwise law-abiding people. MPs in Malta voted 36 to 27 votes in parliament to make it legal for anyone 18 and over to possess up to seven grams of cannabis and to cultivate up to four plants while consuming in public and in the presence of minors remains illegal. New regulations will allow for the setting up of non-profit clubs that can distribute cannabis and cannabis plant seeds among their members.  This has resulted in Malta being the first European country to allow limited cultivation and possession of cannabis. Luxembourg which announced similar plans last October has yet to green light proposals and in Germany, the new coalition government says it plans to legalize cannabis for recreational use. The main opposition party opposed the plan, warning it would normalize and increase drug abuse but where Malta leads others may follow. Luxembourg and Germany are also promising changes in the law. [i]

Germany legalised medicinal cannabis in 2017 which was an important step forward for Europe and now countries like the UK, Poland, Italy, and France are looking into developing their own medicinal programs.  On the recreational side, Luxemburg is looking to legalize cannabis for personal use in the near future, and in Germany, many of the political parties have legalisation included in their campaigns. Currently, the European medicinal market is around €300 million to €400 million which is relatively small but considering the market started four years ago, it’s already scalable and the projections are that the market is going to grow to €3 billion.  With additional recreational markets, projections would be tenfold of what it currently stands. [ii]

Italy will also be looking to reform as cannabis advocates have already gathered enough signatures to hold a referendum to legalize marijuana next year.  A victory will turn Italy’s restrictive system into one of the most liberal in Europe resulting in multiple economic benefits as recent reforms have shown. The Italian market for recreational use is worth in the ballpark of €80 billion which Mafia gangs currently benefit from but once legalized and taxed no differently like cigarettes, it will add €6 million a year to the state.[iii]

The east is also going green as Thailand became the first country in Asia to decriminalise the production and use of cannabis for medicinal purposes in 2020 and this year saw them approve a “de facto” decriminalisation of cannabis.  Thailand’s Narcotics Control Board approved the dropping of the plant from its controlled drugs list following the exclusion of cannabis and hemp from the list of illegal drugs under Thailand’s Narcotic Law.  While recreational use is currently in a grey area of related laws making the legal status of recreational use unclear.  Health Minister Anutin Chanvirakul has been campaigning since 2019 for the legalisation of cannabis production to aid the farmers of the country with the latest progression seen to stimulate recreational cannabis use as a major industry.

Anutin noted that the FDA’s delisting “responds to the government’s urgent policy in developing marijuana and hemp for medical and health care benefits, developing technology and creating income for the public.”[iv]

The future looks hopeful with these recent events as we move towards cannabis legislation creeping ever closer to home.  With the E.U capitalising on the societal benefits of cannabis decriminalisation and medical benefits of its medicinal qualities, we may see Ireland follow in the footsteps of the most progressive countries a lot sooner than later.


References

[i] https://www.bbc.com/news/world-europe-59660856

[ii] https://www.forbes.com/sites/ceciliarodriguez/2021/12/27/germany-moves-to-legalize-cannabis-second-country-after-malta-in-europe/

[iii] https://www.reuters.com/breakingviews/italy-will-be-first-light-up-europes-weed-biz-2021-09-22/

[iv] https://time.com/6142360/thailand-decriminalizes-marijuana/

The Green Party, Social Democrats & Drugs

The Green Party‘s manifesto, Towards 2030: A Decade of Change, opens its page on drug policy with a promising summary of affairs: ‘The criminalisation of drug consumption is a counter-productive policy that perpetuates business models of organised crime and fails to address the public health impact of drugs. A more compassionate policy based on international best practice can be introduced within existing constraints under international law‘. They say they’ll introduce reforms that move drug policy away from a criminal justice approach, into one of public health. Some reforms include ‘removing criminal penalties for possessing less than a week’s supply of a scheduled drug‘, ‘pardoning and releasing non-violent, minor, drug offenders‘ and ‘allowing medically-supervised safe injection facilities‘ (in accordance with what the Minister for Health deems appropriate). Sadly, none of these reforms have been seen yet. As with the other parties I’ve covered recently (along with the Social Democrats), they support a dual diagnosis system, ‘so that the health system can address issues behind drug abuse‘.

More stated reforms include ‘rescheduling cannabis and its derivatives from a Schedule I drug to a Schedule IV drug‘ and ‘decriminalising the possession of small quantities of cannabis products and plants‘. These goals have not been realised either. The nearest thing we have to that last reform mentioned is a half-hearted measure that was implemented in mid-December last year, where being caught with a small amount of cannabis for the first time can mean a warning in place of criminal prosecution. Receiving that adult caution isn’t a given. It’s at the discretion of the Garda at the scene, who decides what constitutes a small, personal amount. While the Greens have also published a more comprehensive drug policy document online, this looks to have originally been published online in August 2019 (see the URL), with edits made as recently as September this year.

I’m not going to outline that document in this post, but it includes interesting proposals like a Dutch-style tolerance system for coffeeshops (which strangely, would not allow edibles), decriminalising possession of under four plants on private properties, and advocating a domestic cultivation sector for hemp and cannabis. The Social Democrats Invest in Better manifesto first discusses drugs on page 22, where the party states an intention to restore the funding for drug and alcohol task forces to pre-austerity levels. Under Tackle Addiction and Substance Abuse, they sensibly summarise their view on drugs and addiction: ‘We understand that addiction requires a health-based approach, with a focus on harm-reduction and prevention based on international best practice. We need a holistic approach to tackling the issue of drugs in Ireland, taking both health and socio-economic factors into account‘. Various points are listed, such as the introduction of drug-testing facilities across the country, ‘ensuring they are present at festivals and areas with high concentrations of night life‘. This would certainly reduce a lot of tragic, unnecessary deaths.

Others mention the need for medically-supervised SIFs (Safe Injection Facilities) and for strengthened Joint Policing Committees, to ensure that Councils and Local Area Committees can hold meetings with Garda representatives about how best to address issues such as low-level drug dealing. The Soc Dems express an interest in decriminalising small amounts of drugs for personal use, ‘in line with the Portuguese model‘. It’s shocking in this day and age that all Irish political parties aren’t suggesting this, at the bare minimum. Like Fine Gael, the Social Democrats would like to expand pre and post-natal substance addiction supports. Uniquely among the manifestos I’ve covered, this one specifically states an intention to expand the availability of anti-overdose drugs. A strong emphasis on increased availability of drugs like Naloxone should be a priority for all parties by now. Such drugs are an invaluable addition to harm reduction efforts, as they can bring someone who has overdosed back from the brink of death.

Keeping in mind everything the Social Democrats said in this manifesto, it is laughable that they seem to have cowered away from taking a stance on the subject of cannabis, specifically. Below is a screenshot showing about three quarters of page 24. One line about supporting medicinal cannabis via prescription, followed by blank space for the remainder of the page.

It’s as though someone was considering a more in-depth page about the party’s thoughts on cannabis, before thinking: ‘No, we’re better off not demonstrating too much vision here’. I suppose they saw it as rocking the boat a little much, so they backed out of making any bold proclamations on weed. Don’t get me wrong though, overall, the Social Democrats seem to have their heads screwed on right in terms of advancing progressive drug policies.

With everything said and done, there are political parties in Ireland who show some intention of taking baby steps toward ending prohibition [see Labour, for example, with Aodhán Ó Ríordáin’s #DECRIM campaign]. But none seem willing to outright express the need for society to do away with prohibition, the root cause of a majority of evils connected to black market drugs and drug abuse. Until that time comes, it seems we’ll have to put up with continued false promises of ‘tackling’ drug-related crime and magically eradicating illegal drug use. The 2020 election manifestos featured on this blog pointed to various modest improvements to our nation’s drug policies, but the reality is that next to nothing has been done by any of those parties since. In this day and age, that is an unacceptable lack of progress for a supposedly modern country, and it is time for everyone who wants to see these changes made to make their voices heard.

Fine Gael, Fianna Fáil & Drugs

The opening line of the drug policy section in Fine Gael‘s GE20 Manifesto proudly ends with an emphasis on more of the same: ‘continuing the relentless pursuit of drug dealers.‘ This is a clear sign that they just don’t get it. How does Fine Gael not know by now that the 50-year-old global war on drugs is a proven failure? The second line develops on their commitment to doing more of the same, by saying they’ll reduce crime and rebuild lives by continuing with the current National Drugs Strategy. They say they’ll utilise ‘key law enforcement strategies to protect people from the harm of illegal drugs‘, seemingly oblivious to the fact that legal regulation is the only real way to eradicate most harms linked to illegal drugs, for good! The dogs on the street can see that drug prohibition causes ever-worsening damage to our society. If drugs were regulated, it would remove the total control of the market that’s currently enjoyed by violent organised crime gangs.

Wording is important. While mentioning the need for awareness programmes in schools, they utilise the tired old phrasing of ‘drug and alcoholmisuse. When phrased like this, it appears to imply that alcohol doesn’t really count as a potentially dangerous substance, unlike black market drugs! This makes it seem less worthy of concern, when in fact, alcohol is believed to be the most dangerous intoxicating substance there is. Fine Gael say they intend to open a ‘pilot medically supervised injecting facility in Dublin City‘, but thanks to a recent High Court decision, that has not been able to happen yet. Irish governments have been talking about opening Ireland’s first SIF (safe injection facility) since 2016. Fine Gael in particular don’t seem to be making much progress with getting this over the line, given the fact that they’ve been in power since 2011.

They plan to ‘expand services available’ to pregnant and post-natal women affected by substance use, as well as their children, but they don’t bother detailing which services will be expanded in what way. Like Sinn Féin and Fianna Fáil, they say they’ll develop a dual diagnosis programme for people who suffer from both addiction and mental illness, who often can’t access adequate care. They state their support for harm reduction (you know, resources like safe injection facilities!) and education campaigns surrounding drug awareness, but bafflingly they also mention ‘the contribution of drugs to criminality‘, offhand. This suggests that using drugs will always lead to addiction and by extension criminality, which for the vast majority of drug users is a ridiculous notion. Fianna Fáil state that ‘complacency on drug policy has allowed more problems to take root‘, without a shred of irony, in their Manifesto. That’s something we can all agree on, regardless of your stance on Irish drug laws!

One of their goals is said to be a ‘justice system that is fit for purpose and commands public trust‘. Arresting a 58-year-old woman for 2.5 grams of weed is probably not a great way of maintaining public trust. Especially when one considers the fact that various public polls about cannabis or drug legalisation in the media have been strongly in favour of decriminalisation or legalisation! Let’s not forget the other stories of shameful treatment in our courts that have emerged over the last year-plus. As with Sinn Féin‘s manifesto, Fianna Fáil aim to have a ‘16,000 strong’ Garda force. They inform us of their intention to improve the Gardaí and their resources, across the board. They continue to show zero self-awareness with this summary of illegal drugs in Ireland: ‘Sadly, towns all over Ireland have massive drug problems with illegal drugs being sold, bought and injected openly on our streets and on public transport. Gangland criminals are operating with contempt for law and order and are destroying the fabric of communities‘.

There’s a universal solution to vastly improve many of these issues which we’ve mentioned ad nauseum on this blog. It’s one enormous elephant in the room, staring all political parties right in the face. And yet, it seems that the imagination and leadership needed to sort this mess out is just not present at Dáil Éireann. They go on to mention more measures intended to curb drug-related crime and to lessen the damage caused by black market drugs – increased funding for drugs taskforces, ‘fully’ implementing the National Drugs Strategy, and strengthening international policing ties to help fight organised crime across Europe. The two main parties in power may feel that their largely status quo efforts are good enough for ‘tackling’ illegal drugs, but it is obvious to anyone with half a brain that this is not the case.

Sinn Féin, People Before Profit & Drugs

According to the Party’s 2020 Manifesto, Sinn Féin believe that drug ‘and alcohol’ misuse (can we please start including alcohol under the umbrella of ‘drugs’?) are primarily public health issues. Harm reduction is stated to be a guiding principle for future ‘drug and alcohol’ strategies for Sinn Féin, but then so is ‘prevention’, which suggests that they still hold a mainly prohibitionist stance when it comes to drugs. Moving on from this, they make the very important point that mental health and addiction are almost exclusively treated as separate conditions in Ireland. They mention how currently some people seeking mental health care are being refused that care due to an existing issue with, or even a history of substance abuse’. They talk of how harms in society ‘by drugs’ and the criminal gangs that control their distribution must be tackled, which to me looks like Sinn Féin don’t appear to fundamentally understand the root cause of virtually all drug-related woes in Irish society – prohibition resulting in unregulated, unpredictable, and unsafe black market drugs! Notably, among their list of priorities in terms of drugs is a ‘No Wrong Door’ policy, to ensure that nobody is refused treatment because of an addiction.

I would sincerely hope that no medical professional in this day and age would turn someone away without some form of treatment when they’re in need, just because they’re a drug user. It feels strange that this should have to be introduced as legislation, but it highlights the stigma that’s still faced by drug users in Ireland. Alongside this, Sinn Féin importantly suggest amending existing legislation surrounding the dual diagnosis of mental health and addiction. They suggest investing an extra 12 million euro in drug task forces and the national drug strategy, as well as dramatically ramping up recruits for An Garda Síochána, bringing their numbers to over 16,000. This, to me, sounds a bit like throwing money at a problem and hoping it’ll go away. The reality is that people will always use drugs, the illegal drugs supply will never go away and drugs will remain dangerously unpredictable so long as gangsters are in control of an unregulated illegal supply.

I could not find a 2020 Manifesto document on the People Before Profit website, but they did have separate policy documents available, including one on drugs policy. Although this file was created five months after last year’s February election, I’m assuming that it’s fairly unchanged overall from the drugs policy they published prior to it. Among the bullet points on their opening summary page is ‘Education to replace criminalisation as a method of deterrence’. This seems to be in line with Gino Kenny‘s proposed Bill on cannabis legalisation, which is expected to be introduced in Dáil Éireann next month.

Crucially for harm reduction, PBP mention the establishment of safe injection rooms, pill testing centres, and a State body to scientifically examine drugs that people take socially. In addition, they suggest highly regulated and supervised State-run distribution services (i.e. needle exchange programmes), which to me would make a lot of sense. ‘A move towards the Portuguese Model to undermine criminal gangs‘ is stated as an aim, which is a significant step down from Gino’s aim of full legalisation. I’m not really sure how decriminalisation would undermine organised crime gangs, because after all, they would retain total control of the drug supply in that scenario. I wish Irish political Parties in general were more courageous about having the conversation about full legalisation, rather than aiming only for the half measure that is decriminalisation.

PBP rightly mention allowing medicinal cannabis use for chronic pain conditions; countless people suffering with chronic pain can attest to its importance in their lives. As has been the norm in Irish politics they don’t dare to mention non-medicinal use, which is underwhelming in my view, given all the scientific data globally that shows that legal recreational weed is perfectly safe and reasonable. It would be remiss of me not to acknowledge that some people argue that all use of cannabis is medicinal, regardless of whether it has been labelled recreational or not, and they are welcome to hold that opinion. Ending page one, PBP say: ‘Criminalising drug users is a failed approach. People Before Profit favours a healthcare approach to drug taking and education rather than criminalisation.’ They proceed to explain how the current system of policing of drug users is inequitable in the sense that people from poorer communities are monitored, sentenced and punished more often and more severely than others are. They also point to how students in schools are educated very poorly about drugs, where among other things, cannabis is still said to be a good ol’ fashioned gateway drug.

Vitally, People Before Profit discuss the need to closely monitor and regulate the influence and power of large corporations from the pharmaceutical, alcohol and cigarette industries, so that they won’t unfairly dominate future legalised drugs industries, or obscure any concerning information which may arise regarding effects on health.