“Should Cannabis be Legalised in Ireland?”

“Should Cannabis be Legalised in Ireland?”

“Should Cannabis be Legalised in Ireland?”

Debate hosted by SSDP Ireland and the UCC Philosoph in Cork, Ireland.

by Graham de Barra, SSDP Ireland

In its opening event of the year, SSDP Ireland and the UCC Philosoph society hosted the debate, “Should Cannabis be Legalised in Ireland?” Thanks to fellow health campaigner Aodhrua McAb SSDP was given the opportunity to work with the Philosoph in hosting the debate.

The weeks leading up to the event were spent short listing speakers, as well as, undergoing a series of phone conversations with the Philosoph who showed enthusiasm and excitement at the prospect of working together. The two speakers chosen on behalf of the proposing side were Peter Reynolds of the Cannabis Law Reform political party (CLEAR) and Gordon McCardle, Irish author of the Compassionate Use of Medical Cannabis Act2010. Standing against the motion was Dr. Johnny Connolly of the Irish Health Research Board, a man of great charisma and repute.

The debate explored several different arguments ranging from the medicinal properties of cannabis, as well as arguments for a more humane approach to drug policy and looser sentencing, in particular for Irish youth. Arguments opposing the proposition were health risks, including the link to psychosis as well as inconclusive evidence to prove that regulation would eliminate the black market.

In front of an audience of about 80 eager listeners Mr. Reynolds opened the debate by arguing for what he called the “four pillars” of his argument;

  1. That cannabis is good for general health,
  2. That current laws in place cause more damage to society than the drug itself,
  3. That current policies don’t protect children and the vulnerable, and
  4. The regulation of cannabis could potentially bring billions to the exchequer in revenue.

Mr. Reynolds began by pointing out the striking figure that 25% of Irish people have admitted to using cannabis in their lifetime in a survey from 2010/2011. These figures demonstrate that it is an issue that directly influences the lives of many Irish people and should therefore not be taken lightly.

Peter Reynolds argued that the laws in place for preventing associated harm from cannabis use, in contrast, cause more damage than the drug itself. He added that “the only form of ID that a dealer checks is a 20 pound note”, when claiming that accessibility is at an all time high for minors.

Reynolds closed his argument by estimating a worth of about 6 billion euro to the Irish government in tax and revenue based on cannabis legalisation–money that could be used for the reform of drug clinics, harm reduction centres, community centres and youth education programs. This, he claimed, is a better system to lower the harm of cannabis to society.

Dr. Johnny Connolly was second to speak. Connolly immediately denied that Ireland is at a war on drugs and confidently believes that Ireland’s National Drug Strategy is working, which, he said is to produce a new Substance Misuse Strategy later in the year. But, he admitted, there is not enough focus on harm reduction.

Connolly claimed that the purity of cannabis is increasing in today’s society and shows a direct link to psychosis. He also highlighted the gateway theory and said that there was “no denying a link between cannabis and harder drugs.” Connolly briefly touched on these points.

The focus of Connolly’s argument was that any model of regulation could not work in Ireland. With the existence of a black market in the tobacco and alcohol industry, he refused to believe that regulation could be a means of removing gangs. He claimed marketing companies in the alcohol and tobacco industries were worse than gangs, as they push drugs and money the same way. Connolly believed that the Irish government would be too incompetent to regulate cannabis and suggested that Ireland should first deal with current regulated drugs before adding new ones.

Connolly concluded by pointing out the success of prohibition, which he claimed was evident by the apparent decrease in cannabis use in Ireland. He couldn’t envision the government doing a better job with regulating cannabis than it does with alcohol and therefore it was better to leave the industry unregulated and uncontrolled.

For me, Connolly’s argument lacked evidence and credibility. To reject the reality of the war on drugs is to completely avoid the subject. It is contradictory to make this claim and then admit  that Ireland’s drug strategy needs reform. Why would a drug strategy even exist if there is no war on drugs?

Connolly stated an apparent decrease in cannabis use yet consumption has increased over 1.2% over the past 10 years according to the 2011 United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) Report on Drugs. With this rise in consumption and the expansion of the black market, it is therefore incorrect to claim that Ireland’s drug  policy strategy is working, and it would be irresponsible to allow it to continue. In reality Ireland’s drug laws result in selective prosecution and unwarranted arrests by the Gardaí, while gangs continue to operate and control a substance that is safer than most legal drugs. Connolly described his time studying in Trinity College, where he claimed there to be an abundance of cannabis use among peers who would “in reality” not be prosecuted. This use of emotive rhetoric can not be taken as an example of the real world to reinforce a point about easy-going laws. This is the major downfall for Connolly’s argument for me and an unconvincing one which became apparent in the resulting vote.

Next to speak was Gordon McCardle, a medical cannabis campaigner who previously owned a cannabis dispensary in California. A man of great charisma and character, McCardle had the audience entranced for the 15 minutes he spoke. McCardle started strongly and compared the 4 billion euro cost at treating alcohol abuse per annum to the miniscule costs of cannabis treatment.

McCardle declared, “You can’t go to the gardaí for illegal drug issues”. He claimed that dealers come from all walks of life and it doesn’t necessarily mean they are evil. He did admit that most street dealers are minors, as young as 12. He asks, then, how has the war on drugs succeeded? “I would challenge anyone to go to the park and try and find me alcohol. You couldn’t.”

McCardle shifted the focus of psychosis away from cannabis and instead towards legal drugs such as alcohol, nicotine and caffeine. He explained how tobacco psychosis occurs because smoking temporarily normalises your auditory gating deficit. So, he added, if tobacco is mixed with cannabis as is the norm in Ireland, it is plausible that psychosis is the direct link to the tobacco mix in joints. It is another reminder of how vaporisers are the best way of ingesting cannabis and that any users concerned about their health should start using one.

A staggering theory put forward by McCardle was that drug money was the only form of liquid capital available to banks during the collapse of the market. The theory maintains that drug kingpins rescued the banking system, and if true they could hold the global economic system at ransom. McCardle referenced the work of Antonio Maria Costa, head of the UNODC regarding this theory.

McCardle ended by saying we should consider the legalisation of cannabis as the pharmaceutical industry has too much control in Ireland, a society which places too much emphasise on name-brand drugs.

The floor then opened for members of the audience to speak who offered their own unique perspectives. Crowd interaction was superb and many different opinions were shared. A great level of respect was given to people of all sides of the argument. A vote was cast which resulted in the side for legalisation winning the majority of votes.

I’d like to give a personal thank you to the UCC Philosoph for holding the debate and working with us, and to each of the speakers who attended.

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