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.