The War on drugs is lost… so what do we do now?

War on Drug is lost, so what do we do now? Government research shows decriminalisation and taxation of our illicit drugs trade may be the way forward. Although the official Government line is that drugs decriminalisation “is not being discussed”, the mounting evidence from its own research is that Ireland has lost the “war on drugs”.

In 2000, the then Goverment ruled that research should begin into the markets, and it set up the National Advisory Committee on Drugs and Alcohol (NACDA).

One NACDA report was released last week – the day after American states California, Nevada, Maine and Massachusetts voted to join Colorado, Washington State, Oregon and Alaska in legalising the cannabis for recreational use. A total of 21 states have also now decriminalised cannabis use for medical purposes.

The decision by voters in California, which has the fifth-largest economy in the world, is probably the most significant in relation to Ireland, given that many of the hi-tech American companies here have their base in the state.

Historically, one of the main reasons for maintaining the ban on cannabis use here was that governments did not wish the Republic to be seen as a haven for drug users, as this could be a deterrent to investors. But that situation seems to have reversed if investors are coming here from a place where it is now fully legal to possess and consume cannabis.

While relatively little attention was paid to last week’s report by the NACDA in Dublin, the advisory council’s role is supposed to be to inform and direct the Government’s policy. No mention of legalisation was made in the report or in its other major report last year, The Illicit Drugs Market in Ireland.

The illicit report is the most comprehensive study and its effects in Ireland. It was carried out over three years by researchers Anne Marie Donovan and Johnny Connolly of the Health Research Board and gives the clearest insight yet.

One of the most striking findings of the illicit drugs report is that Garda action in seizing drugs is actually one of the main causes of violence in the drugs trade, as dealers assault and murder each other over loss of earnings.

The NACDA report also found that, despite up to 15,000 arrests each year by gardai and customs for drugs, the vast majority of arrests are of young people for simple possession of small amounts of drugs for personal use. More than 120,000 people have criminal convictions for drugs possession or supply over the past decade and the Garda continues to prosecute people at a rate or around 1,000 a month to meet its key performance indicators in its efforts to “reduce supply”.

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