Cannabis use on rise but there's no plans to turn 'blind eye' to it

Colorado became the 'Amsterdam of America'.

Jim Cusack

Home cultivation of cannabis, which is becoming increasingly popular, can still result in growers receiving a 14-year prison sentence with no plans to decrease the seriousness of the offence.

No review of the current application of the drugs laws is under way despite moves in Britain to largely decriminalise possession of drugs for 'personal use'.

The issue has come under national debate again in the UK after police in County Durham last week said they would "not prioritise" prosecuting people who had small amounts of cannabis for personal use.

While the equipment for growing cannabis and the seeds are being sold openly and in increasing amounts in Ireland, there are no plans for changes in the law to reduce the seriousness of the offence.

The last decade has seen a massive boom in the numbers arrested, charged and convicted of drugs offences.

Between 2004 and 2014 some 186,794 people were charged with drugs offences, around 90pc for possession of small amounts of drugs for 'personal use', an offence which almost never results in imprisonment but does constitute a criminal conviction.

The mainly young people who are convicted for possession of small amounts of illegal drugs are automatically deemed criminals, have their criminal record catalogued on the Garda Pulse database and cannot seek employment in most non-EU states. They also face severely restricted employment opportunities at home.

Last year some 15,933 people were prosecuted by gardai under the Misuse of Drugs Act and of these 11,279 were prosecuted for 'personal use', according to CSO statistics.

The number of people being prosecuted for cultivating cannabis is increasing dramatically. In 2006, only 99 people were charged with cultivating cannabis, whereas last year the number was 346.

Each year only a tiny number of drugs prosecutions are for importation as both the Garda and Customs fail to make any significant impact on major traffickers.

Garda and Customs sources told the Sunday Independent that the drugs problem continues to increase despite the boom in Garda prosecutions and convictions of people for possessing small amounts for personal use.

The highest yearly number of people prosecuted for possession of drugs was in 2008 when 23,404 prosecutions were taken by gardai, 18,093 for 'personal use'.

During the same year, only 67 people were prosecuted for importation of drugs and, sources say, most of these had bought drugs in countries where they are legally available and were caught bringing small amounts back into Ireland by air or sea.

This compares dramatically with 1994 when the total number prosecuted for all types of drug offences was 392.

Health minister Leo Varadkar has expressed an interest in re-examining the prosecution of drugs law, suggesting in March that an 'addiction-focused approach' rather than a criminal one would be more suitable in many instances.

Speaking during a brief Senate debate on the re- criminalisation of categories of the so-called 'head shop' drugs that were temporarily decriminalised, Varadkar said: "A number of senators called for a more health focused, addiction focused approach rather than a criminal justice one to deal with the drugs crisis. My own instincts are in that direction too."

He added that any move would require "thought and consideration and public buy in" were it to be successful.