New Citizens’ Assembly on Drugs Use

Described as the most ‘ambitious and far-reaching’ discussion on national drugs policy, the Citizens’ Assembly on Drugs Use is expected to finalise its report by the end of 2023.

The Citizens’ Assembly on Drugs Use, established on 14 February 2023, held its first meeting on the 15 and 16 April 2023.

Comprised of 99 members and an independent chair, the Citizens’ Assembly will be asked to consider the legislative, policy, and operational changes the State could make to significantly reduce the harmful impacts of illicit drugs on individuals, families, communities, and wider society.

In its first meeting, the assembly focused on drugs use patterns and trends, the harmful impacts of drugs use, and a ‘person-centred perspective’ on drugs use. Members were also presented with an outline of a draft work programme for the assembly and how it will conduct its work towards the preparation of a final report and recommendations, to be presented to the Taoiseach and Houses of the Oireachtas by the end of 2023.

Assembly chair, the former HSE CEO Paul Reid, said following the first meeting: “We have now begun the most ambitious and far-reaching discussion on drugs use and national drugs policy that has ever taken place in Ireland. This Assembly has the opportunity to be transformative. Clearly our members recognise this and I want to thank them for their enthusiasm, engagement, and eagerness to learn.”

Drug law in Ireland is currently administered under the aegis of the Misuse of Drugs Act 1977. Under the current legislation:

  • Possession of cannabis or cannabis resin for personal use is punishable by a fine on first and second conviction. A third and all subsequent offences incur a fine and/or a term of imprisonment for up to one year on summary conviction (i.e. of a minor offence charged by way of a summons and heard in a lower (district) court), or alternatively, a fine and/or imprisonment for up to three years for conviction on indictment (i.e. a more serious offence for which a formal charge is brought and the case is referred to the criminal courts, where the defendant may opt for a jury trial).
  • Possession of all other controlled substances incurs a penalty of a fine and/or imprisonment for up to one year on summary conviction, and imprisonment for up to seven years for conviction on indictment.
  • Possession for the purpose of sale or supply incurs penalties ranging from imprisonment for up to one year and/or a fine on summary conviction, or up to imprisonment for life and or/an unlimited fine on conviction on indictment.

A report by the European Journal for Public Health, published in March 2023, critiqued Irish politicians for allowing drug reform to be “kicked into the long grass”, further finding that decriminalisation of drugs “could help with criminal and social issues”.

Speaking to eolas Magazine, People Before Profit TD Gino Kenny stated his belief that there will be a liberalisation of drug laws in Ireland: “I am quietly confident that this Citizens’ Assembly will bring about a change to our draconian drug laws. I think public opinion has shifted and people recognise that Ireland is far behind the curve with other European countries like the Netherlands and Portugal.”

He further said: “The Government has adopted a harm reduction approach which I welcome, but we really need to see this go much further. We have a burgeoning prison population which has been partially fuelled by jailing people for drugs use and we need to have radical solutions to this very serious problem.”

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