Review of approaches taken in Ireland and in other jurisdictions to simple possession drug offences
Dr Caitlin Hughes, Professor Alex Stevens, Shann Hulme, and Dr Rebecca Cassidy
A report for the Irish Department of Justice & Equality and the Department of Health
In summary, this report has outlined an array of policy options that could be taken be Ireland, each of which offers potential benefits: including for people who possess drugs, for the CJS, for taxpayers and for other service providers. Given what is known about the drug problem in Ireland, including relatively high levels of both cannabis and heroin use, with an interrelationship between unemployment and problematic drug use, a mixed approach (combining a few of the models outlined) may be the preferred approach. The Irish government could, for example, reduce the burden of criminalisation on people who use drugs by applying both depenalisation of the most minor drug possession offences and decriminalisation with targeted diversion for those offenders who are more likely to need it. On the basis of the available evidence, this would pose a minimal risk of increasing drug use (and so may have little effect on serious organised crime or drug driving), would reduce costs in the CJS, and would provide additional pathways into treatment for people who need it (while not overburdening the treatment system with people who do not need it).
Any alternative approach to dealing with simple drug possession comes with risks. The research in this area is complex, incomplete and not capable of providing definitive answers about what the outcome of any given approach will be in the Irish context. The current approach also entails risk, including that costs and burdens are placed on citizens (taxpayers and people who use drugs) that are not justified by effects in reducing social and health harms. We hope this report will help to inform discussion in Ireland on how the best balance of risks and burdens can be achieved.
Full report here