A new poll released this week by the National Family Support Network in the Republic of Ireland has made headlines after 81% of respondents backed the decriminalisation of drug use.
What made this poll particularly important is that, unlike countless online polls which get flooded by activists and often end up with near 100% support, the NFSN is an organisation which works exclusively with families directly affected by substance abuse. Not necessarily the people you would expect to be so overwhelmingly in support of drug law reform.
NFSN co-ordinator Sadie Grace told the Irish Examiner: “80.7% of attendees at the NFSN annual work conference who participated in our poll supported the decriminalisation of drugs.
“We in the NFSN believe that to criminalise a person who is drug dependent for the personal possession of drugs is futile and can jeopardise a person’s capacity for long-term rehabilitation while also adding extra heartache to the family.”
This survey, and endorsement of decriminalisation, comes after Ireland appointed a new Minister of State with Responsibility for Drug Strategy back in April. Aodhán Ó Ríordáin is already on record as saying that the country needs to stop treating drug users as criminals, and has raised the subject in the Dáil – the lower house, and principal chamber, of the Oireachtas (Irish legislature), which also includes the President of Ireland and Seanad Éireann (the upper house).
It remains to be seen whether Ireland will indeed go through with the new Minister’s plans and decriminalise drug use, but the fact that such a prominent figure has supported it and started the conversation is great news for those fighting for law reform in the country. That the NSFN have leant their support can only serve to increase the chances of such a change happening – remember, this organisation represents those people most affected by drug abuse, people who will have seen the harm that certain drugs can undoubtedly cause, and who have decided that the harms caused by criminalisation are far greater.
Should Ireland decide to decriminalise drug use, they will be following in the footsteps of another European nation, Portugal, where the possession and use of any drug ceased to be a criminal offence back in 2001, with remarkable results. HIV infections have fallen dramatically, and drug-related deaths now occur at a rate of 3 per million citizens, compared to the EU of average of 17.3 per million.
Another seemingly linked outcome is that the use of Novel Psychoactive Substances (or ‘legal highs’, if you must use that term) in Portugal is lower than in any other country where reliable data exists. This should be of particular interest to politicians in Ireland, who reacted to soaring rates of NPS use by introducing a blanket ban back in 2010 which has failed to affect the rates of usage. In fact the latest research shows that NPS use has in fact risen in Ireland since the ban came in, something which seems to have escaped the attention of the British government, who continue to press on with a ban of their own.
All in all, decriminalisation (and hopefully, eventually, legalisation) seems like the smart choice for Ireland. They, along with other countries like Canada, Mexico and even Iran, are taking the first steps on that road. Hopefully they’ll all make it to the correct destination.
by Deej Sullivan (@sullivandeej)