In Ireland, the Dáil Éireann (Assembly of Ireland) is one of the houses of the national parliament – the government that makes all of Ireland’s rules. Not only do they have a super cool Irish name, they have also just passed a bill that will make medicinal cannabis available for use by Irish citizens in the traditional dispensary, regulation, and legalization ways those of us in the United States are familiar with. (By the way, they also became the first country to legalize same-sex marriage through a popular vote.) I don’t know about you, but if I lived on the Emerald Isle, I would want access to more than just the lovely green countryside to help with chronic pain, epilepsy, cancer, MS, and fibromyalgia. Let’s take a quick trip to the land of saints and scholars and find out how medical marijuana may become part of the country’s green landscape.
Ireland’s Marijuana History
Ireland’s NORML website notes that cannabis has been demonized “through corrupt political and corporate propaganda…because of American foreign policy.” Yep, that sounds about accurate. Over the past few years, Ireland’s difficult drug policies have begun to shift toward a more tolerant approach, at least in regards to marijuana. In August of 2015, a government committee decided that marijuana had been criminalized enough in Ireland, and that Colorado’s recent cannabis legalization and decriminalization had resulted in “massive benefit” in the United States. That is also accurate. The document submitted to the Irish government specifically cited Colorado’s state constitution laws concerning marijuana regulation like alcohol, and noted all the monetary and societal benefits that came from that. Essentially, the Irish government’s view is that criminalizing any type of drug user is not helpful, and education and alternative therapies are a better way to go. I agree, and I’m heartened to see that Colorado is an example for our Northern neighbors of how to do marijuana things right! NORMAL Ireland is fighting for the removal of all private cannabis possession penalties for adults, legalized cultivation for adults, and a cannabis social club model similar to that established in Spain, wherein “casual nonprofit transfers of small amounts” of marijuana can be made without fear of law enforcement retribution. I love that word, retribution, but I don’t love it in association with cannabis.
Ireland’s Overcrowded Prisons
The problems with petty drug offenses in Ireland are much the same as they are around the world – that is, police officers (or Garda, as they are known there) must waste time better spent chasing high-level criminals on arrests and dealing with people smoking joints in back alleyways after a few beers at the local pub. The jails are overcrowded and “inhumane” on the tiny island, and 89% of prisoners in Ireland were serving light sentences of less than 12 months (read: minor drug offenses). The controversial and medieval practice of “slopping out” (having to use a bucket for a toilet instead of an actual toilet) was still being practiced in some prisons in June of 2014 and 17-year-olds were being put in adult prisons with dangerous inter-prisoner violence. So you can see why Ireland needed to make some changes to its drug policies; in particular with cannabis or marijuana.
Ireland’s Pro-MMJ Bill
To be clear, this pro-medical marijuana bill has not yet been passed by Ireland’s government, contrary to what you might have heard. The bill has passed the Dáil, and it now goes on toward the general parliament which has said it won’t oppose the legislation. If Ireland does pass the bill, doctors will be allowed to decide if cannabis can benefit their patients (which is just as it should be). Small amounts of cannabis were decriminalized in Ireland back in 2015. Minister for Health Simon Harris has asked for the Irish Health Products Regulatory Authority to give him advice on the value of marijuana both scientifically and medically. Harris also wants to make amendments to the bill to make sure that cannabis is not legalized for recreational use. Well, Mr. Harris, I admire your chutzpah, but I think Ireland would also benefit from recreational marijuana. Beggars can’t be choosers, however, so let’s just sit back and see how this all plays out.