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!

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.

Senator Lynn Ruane at ‘The Case For Drug Decriminalisation in Ireland’ | 03.03.2021

Lynn Ruane is an independent Senator for the University of Dublin constituency in Seanad Éireann (the Irish Senate). As a guest speaker for TD Gino Kenny’s Case for Drug Decriminalisation in Ireland, Ruane shares her perspective on what is needed for effective drug reform, as someone who once used drugs and who grew up in a community which was significantly affected by the illegal drugs trade. The following text has been adapted from the live stream for the purpose of clarity. The questions were posed by TD Gino Kenny.

Hiya Gino, thanks for inviting me along this evening. I’m Senator Lynn Ruane, I’m a policymaker. I have a few hats (in the ring), but I suppose tonight I’m here in that role, as somebody that has advocated within her political career to end what I see as the criminalisation of poverty and marginalisation and addiction. I worked for about 20 years.. I still work in a sense, in the addiction sector. I still volunteer in a couple of different places and I do a bit of work with Safety Net around homelessness and health equity. So I’m still very much involved in different communities, but I try to take my experience and everything that I’ve learned as a working class woman and a woman that used drugs. And I try to take that into my career in the addiction sector and then from the addiction sector into policymaking. So, tonight I’ll be speaking very much from how I’ve tried to progress that conversation from the ground into the Houses of Parliament, which I’ve been doing since 2016. 

Is there a case for drug decriminalisation in Ireland? Yeah, there most certainly is. First we have to start with the whole concept and accept that prohibition hasn’t worked. The only reason we criminalise people is to stop people using drugs. I don’t think there’s any country that has shown that prohibition has achieved what it set out to do. I was a drug user from a very, very young age and a lot of my friends still are. And some have moved into recovery, (have) been addicted to heroin for a very long time, since we were in our early teens and our communities were destroyed by drugs. And at that time I thought that every community was the same, I didn’t really have anything to compare it to. As I began to work in addiction, I worked with cocaine users, heroin users, gambling, I worked right across the spectrum. But I worked primarily in working class communities, developing responses to drug use. 

For me there were two things that really cemented to me why we really need to change our drug laws. One of those is – why do we say that somebody is unwell or suffering with mental health (addiction being on that spectrum of mental health)? Somebody is using drugs because of trauma, because of poverty, and then we punish them for that. So you’re looking at a community and a group of people who experience addiction who are already being punished by their mere tendency to self-medicate. And obviously people talk saying there’s drugs in every area, in every community and of course I don’t deny that in any shape or form. Addiction is in any State and any postcode. But what we have to accept is that it’s very, very highly concentrated in terms of chaotic and problematic drug use in working class communities. And there’s a big difference between that type of drug use and drug use in the recreational sense or in the sense where your life is not going to fall apart because you’re a drug user.

And there’s different types of drug users. For communities like mine, they ended up with such problematic drug use because of their circumstances. And then to be punished for that and put into a system, when really it’s a health approach empathy, access and options and choices that they need. For me, the two things were that it’s a class issue and that prison and prohibition.. It just doesn’t work. So when I left the addiction sector and ran for the Senate, obviously my political career has been somewhat of an extension of my work within the sector. One of the very first Bills that I tabled within Leinster House was the Drug Decriminalisation Bill. Now that Bill is currently still on the Order Paper and we debated it, but they asked me to not push it at that time. The Minister at the time, Catherine Byrne, wanted to develop a Working Group to look at drug decriminalisation in Ireland.

So I presented to that and other different stakeholders did. There was obviously lots of good work, there was lots of expertise around the table. But there was a lot of evidence somewhat ignored in that, from speakers that we work with from the UK and Ireland. What they went with in the end was a diversion programme. It hasn’t been implemented yet and I know the Department is moving towards that and they’re eager to do that. I’m happy that people and the Department and politicians are starting to understand that it is a health issue. I don’t believe that this diversion programme makes it a health issue in how it’s going to be implemented, because it’s only a health issue for the first time that you get caught with drugs. What that working group ended up proposing was that it’s temporarily a health issue. So you get caught with drugs the first time and you’ll be then redirected into health services. But from there on, it’s no longer a health issue, it’s something else. It’s back into the Justice system. So on the one hand we’re acknowledging that people need help and then we’re only giving them one chance to get that. 

Now for me what that does is it creates another layer of that being a class issue. Because the likelihood of you getting caught with drugs more than once if you are in addiction, if you are on the streets or if you’re in communities that are very heavily policed.. Well then the likelihood of getting caught with drugs more than once is much, much higher, than if you are somebody who doesn’t have a problem with the drug, or is not living in the community that is heavily policed. So again, it still remains a class issue and for me the current proposals are a step forward. We need to go much further, but it still won’t actually protect those most vulnerable. So I think a case still needs to be made that we need to listen to the evidence in relation to drug decriminalisation and why it’s needed and why it’s necessary. And if we really want people to find their way into recovery, well then we need to create that opportunity. Not just once, but again, and again, and again, until somebody actually finds what works for them and finds how they want to progress. And if they end up in the prison system, that’s gonna become more and more difficult. 

What would decriminalisation look like, rather than the model that we have at the moment? The model at the moment is that, as you know… There’s not a day that goes by now that there aren’t seizures of drugs. It’s mainly cannabis, but there’s not a day that goes by in different parts of the country. So, whether drugs are legal or not, people are going to use them. If decriminalisation was implemented tomorrow, in your opinion, what would it look like in a practical sense?

I think there’s two questions wrapped up there. And one you’re touching on in terms of seizures – you’re talking about drug trade. And then drug decriminalisation. One is about supply, one is about the individual. For me, drug decriminalisation means that we’re decriminalising the individual. Like I said in my intro, we currently criminalise poverty. If we can accept that trauma and poverty and pain increase the likelihood of you becoming a chronic drug user, well then we’re saying that we are gonna criminalise you for your poverty and your pain. So I think we’d begin to remove some of the stigma. I think for me as well, working in the addiction and the homeless sector for as long as I have, I’ve seen peoples’ life trajectory in terms of illness and co-morbidities and everything else that comes with many, many years of drug use or homelessness and poverty. They’re all so intertwined, you know? And for me being able to say to somebody at a very early stage, “We don’t judge you. We don’t want to imprison you. We’re not going to make you face the justice system. But instead, we are going to offer you services.” But we need to remember when we offer services… People have to build recovery capital. People have to be ready. People have to want it. And recovery is not always about accidents either.

Sometimes it’s harm reduction, sometimes it’s making sure you have a roof over your head. Sometimes it’s making sure you can just keep your hospital appointments, ‘cause you might still be using drugs. So I think we need to acknowledge that recovery is not abstinence, not always abstinence at least. And decriminalisation isn’t just that you’re gonna offer someone a health appointment and off they go. And “That’s it, isn’t that great? Less people are staying on drugs.” It’s not really about that. And then the other argument that happens is that when you decriminalise drugs, you’re going to somehow decrease the drug use in a country. That’s also not true, but you’re giving people options at a much earlier stage, which means they have a better relationship with the services, they have a better relationship with the health system. And for anyone growing up in a community like mine where it is heavily policed and you do get stopped and searched and there has been violent interactions with Guards and there have been judgements that really break down the relationship with the State and authorities.

You’re not being stopped and searched all the time on the assumption that you might be in the possession of a small amount of drugs. It also might go in favour of community policing, because community policing can then stop unnecessarily targeting people because of how they look or where they’re hanging around, because they might be in possession of a couple of e or a bag of weed or something. And I think it can go some way into healing some of that relationship and I think that’s really, really necessary if we’re going to have a legal system that’s going to be operating inside communities that do experience hardship like that. In terms of resources which you were talking about… when I was developing my legislation, we got some really big financial people to come in to look at the economics of prohibition. And (to) look at how much money can actually be saved by decriminalising drugs.

And we hit some big, big figures in the year, in the millions. And that was only scraping the surface. So that’s only looking at your really typical stuff like prison, legal aid, the judiciary, stuff like that. But if you were to look at the health system, you look at the amount of people that end up in that revolving door of the A & E. Deep vein thrombosis, hepatitis, all of those things. Sometimes it’s years and years before someone accesses healthcare. But if they can access it much earlier on, under a decrim model, some of those co-morbidities might be helped somewhat. So you might have health savings as well. I think if you were to carry out a study over a long term, a longitudinal study, you will see that there are savings in the health system as well, long term. So, they’re just some of the things that will happen with decriminalisation, but I think drug dealing and supply have been touched on a little bit. And this is something that I’ve worked on for many years. Not a lot of people have been too much in favour of my work around the drug trade.

The first piece of work I did was… Gerry Roe would maybe have worked with me at the time, in Bluebell Addiction Services and it was doing a research piece on drug dealers’ views and exit strategies. So for some reason we seem to want to separate drug dealers and drug users. And for me, I don’t really want to do that in too much of a sense, at that community level. At that working class community level. Because both of them are born from poverty, from lack of opportunity. Drug dealing among young men especially is often born from the want to succeed. They want to have basic things. And when we carried out the research, some people said things like they just didn’t want to wear their older brothers’ hand-me-downs any more. Or you know, in the ’90s, when all the houses were getting window weather glaze, before the corporation decided to do it, one young man wanted to make money to get weather glazed windows because he was the only house in the row that couldn’t afford to get them in, so these are some of the reasons why people enter the drug trade. And I think, for me, I don’t want to ever demonise those young men.

I want to look at what the root cause of addiction is in many circumstances and what the root cause of entry into the drug trade is. I think with decriminalisation and legalisation, we can begin to look at poverty and that social floor. And if you don’t have a good basis of a social floor, well then how can we ever really succeed? And it really goes back to what 1Carl (Hart) was saying and what some of the others were saying. It’s about politicians, it’s about being able to actually ask and answer the big questions. And to actually address the unequal and unfair system that we live in.  

Lynn, I’m gonna come to you in relation to going beyond decriminalisation and the ongoing debate in Ireland. I understand it’s gonna be debated in the Citizens Assembly sometime this year. Now, this debate has been going on now for a long, long, long time. Far too long, and we need to get on with it. The majority of people in Ireland understand that you cannot police your way out of people that take drugs. It’s just unworkable. So what do you say to people that say, “If decriminalisation is introduced, more drugs will come into peoples’ hands. And the violence that accompanies drug gangs won’t be tackled”?

I suppose again it’s like having a few conversations. Decriminalisation is very much about the individual. Legalisation is much more about the collective, for me. So, we only begin to address the quality of drugs, the types of drugs, the safety of the drugs, when we begin to legalise. With decriminalisation, it’s very much about stigma. There’s even different variations of what decriminalisation looks like, like de-penalisation. But I feel like we have a little bit of a way to go. Again, it’s one of those things where politics is behind the public. And that’s often the case, that politics is behind the public. And I think that sometimes people are a little bit afraid to take that leap in, and be ambitious, and be courageous in their policymaking. And then sometimes you see a hierarchy of drugs being created. A lot of people advocate very – forget about the medicinal cannabis – But when I see people really, really advocating for the legalisation of cannabis, I always get a little bit uncomfortable by that.

Because within the legalisation aspect of things, there are people then that want to set different drugs apart from each other. And I don’t think that that should happen, because that creates again another class system of how we create drugs policy in Ireland. And I don’t think that that’s the way to go, at all. I do think decriminalisation needs to happen, to show Ireland and to show mostly our policymakers, that the world doesn’t end. That actually it’s a positive. And I think when people get comfortable in that space of decriminalisation, they’ll begin to expand their minds and expand, I suppose, their ambitions around drug policy in general. And begin to think about, well what would it mean to legalise? And I think to legalise is really important.

A country has everything to gain from legalising drugs. Right down to supply, right down to accessing services. And right down to saving peoples’ lives, and actually having a good quality of drugs. And like Carl said, there’s so many people in high society, in elite society, in middle class society, that use drugs. And the type of drug they use can often differ, but they still use drugs. And surely they can get their heads around the idea that wouldn’t cleaner, safer drug use be better for them too, you know? For me, I think the conversation has moved a little bit, but not even nearly far enough. And I think it’s because politicians are slow to react to what the people actually want. 222,000 submissions came into the Health Department for drug decriminalisation. The largest ever sample of society that contributed to a single piece to a department, and it was on drug decriminalisation. And it was so heavily in favour of drug decriminalisation.

Yet, when the State had the opportunity to take those 22,000 submissions… Then they had a working group. And then they came up with something completely different to what the working group recommended. So it shows that we provide State and policymakers with what society wants and then they shave it back. So for me, I think what we need is a really ambitious Minister and Department that wants to drive these things forward. And (who) is not going to be bogged down by Civil Servants or by vested interests. And I think that when we get that person that will be strong or be brave in how they make decisions, I think that we can move it along. But I think the public are with us, and politicians aren’t there yet. 

Lynn, how do you see it going in the next eighteen months or so? I think what’s going to happen in relation to the programme that’s being put forward, in terms of the diversion, I think they will implement that. I think they’ll do it administratively, instead of legislation. I think that was the feedback we got over recent weeks. I think they will pilot what they’ve already suggested, which is fine. But I think in parallel to that happening, we need to be making sure that we’re still advancing the conversation. It’s a different piece of legislation, but my spent convictions legislation also looks to do a bit of a keyhole work-in to drugs legislation in a sense, and employment legislation. Because there is an intersection between them. So, the spent convictions legislation that I’ve moved quite far along in the Seanad will hopefully go into the Dáil before the end of the year. Before summer recess would be the dream.

But within that, it also looks to remove drugs possession from the Garda vetting aspect. So, people that were caught in possession when they go for employment.. Even if that conviction becomes spent, if they only had one conviction for possession, it keeps coming up and it keeps coming up. They can’t volunteer, they can’t travel, they can’t do anything with their lives. So, I hope that we still keep advancing our conversations and keep highlighting to policymakers that we need to advance further what they’ve already put forward. And hopefully, the spent convictions legislation can be another step forward. Even though it’s not drug decriminalisation, it is really still hitting a similar target group, in terms of allowing people to live their lives. Integrate, rehabilitate, and do it at their own pace. When they’re ready. And creating the structures for them to be able to do that. So I think, just to say one thing, whatever the Department put forward, let us try and support that to work as best it can. None of us feel that it’s what we wanted, it’s not enough. But let it do what it wants to do. 

But still keep advancing the conversations and pushing the agenda further. And I think we can continue to do that in a number of different ways. I’m the chair of the cross-Party group on drug policy reform. And we’ve invited the Minister in, and that’s a cross-Party group across many different politicians and Parties. And we’re trying to work together to reform drug policy. Not only in terms of drug decrim, but across the board. Drug policy, in general. We’re having a lot of those conversations. And I also see that as an education of policymakers that don’t necessarily understand or are not exposed to addiction in the same way that some other politicians are. So for me, that group allows us to actually have a safe space, where we can bring politicians along on that journey. The next step is to keep opening hearts and minds. And when you have hearts and minds, people will step into that space and the policy will change. I’m with Ger (Gerard Roe). I think by 2025, the bulk of the work will be done and we will be there in some sort of big policy change. 

I’d like to thank everybody for joining the discussion. Lynn, Gerard, Philly (McMahon) and Carl. It was a very, very good discussion. I think there’s a lot of people that have engaged. I couldn’t get to everybody’s questions, (it was) just not possible. I’ll try and give another meeting similar to this in the next couple of months. A number of people have asked me about the cannabis Bill. I probably will be introducing it sometime around late July, or September. It’s called The Cannabis Regulation and Control Bill. Timing is obviously very important. Some good news I can reveal tonight – The Medical Cannabis Access Programme will be operational in June. This will be the first time that people can get medical cannabis under prescription. So it’ll be functional in June. I know we don’t conflate the two issues, but I think at least it’s a recognition by the State that cannabis can be used as a medicine, as well as for other reasons.

On a note of hope, I along with People Before Profit will continue to raise the issue of decriminalisation. It’s strange, because Frank Feighan (Minister with responsibility for the national drug strategy), I keep meeting him all the time! And I do have informal conversations with him. So I’m pushing him, informally, to say: “Look it man, you’ve gotta go beyond what the other predecessors have been doing. It’s not working, you’ve gotta be radical. You’ve gotta be [a] revolution when it comes to drug reform. Because it just doesn’t work, what you’ve been doing in the past.” I’ll be in his ear, and everybody else’s ear. And in my time, and in Lynn’s time when we’re in the Seanad, we’ll be pushing for drug reform. Because, what drug reform to me is about, it’s about saving lives. And giving people hope, you know?

You’re never gonna eradicate drugs, it’s just not possible. People will always use drugs for all sorts of reasons. But the best way to tackle that issue is to look at it more maturely and more differently than we’ve ever done before. And to me that starts with decriminalisation and looking beyond that. And that’s why I’m gonna introduce the Bill, as I said, some time this year. Around legalisation of cannabis, which I think is a no-brainer. Public opinion is way ahead of politicians. So on that note, thanks everybody for contributing tonight. It was a very, very good discussion and we’ll see yis in the future. Thanks!

References:

1 Carl Hart‘s contribution to this online talk was recently featured as a post on The Green Lens,

and can be read here: https://bit.ly/3iJwjBP

2 For more information on the public consultation mentioned by Lynn, see the Working Group’s report

at this link: https://bit.ly/2Vedn5R

* The online panel discussion, hosted by People Before Profit, can be viewed in full at this link:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iAgtPMDmZzQ