'Sick people don't need to be in court' - Senator Aodhán O Riordain backs decriminalising all drugs for personal use
Decriminalising drug use will help addicts as "sick people do not need to be in a court room", Senator Aodhán O Riordain said today.
The drug reform campaigner is backing decriminalising all drugs for personal use, which is one of the options outlined in the impending National Drugs Strategy.
The document is due to be published by Minister of State for Drugs Catherine Byrne this summer and proposes something similar to the Portuguese model, where small amounts of drugs for personal use are legalised.
Mr O Riordain said he thinks this would be more affective at helping drug users to tackle the habit.
Speaking on Newstalk Breakfast, he said: "The word decriminalisation can often be misunderstood and doesn't mean legalisation, it doesn't mean that these substances would be legal, it means that you would effectively deal with somebody with addiction purely through the medical sphere and not the criminal sphere.
"So if you are caught with a small amount of drugs that are clearly for your own personal use, you wouldn't automatically be sent through the courts and criminal justice system...
"About 70 per cent of the drugs cases that are before our courts at the moment are for possession for personal use, which to be honest is a complete waste of garda time and criminal justice time...
"The idea is that you have someone with an addiction who is fundamentally a patient, who should be surrounded by compassion, not somebody who should be sitting in a court room.
"I've been down to the drug court and all you see are a bunch of sick people who are sitting in a court room, sick people do not need to be in a court room dealing with guards and judges."
The Labour Party representative also addressed concerns that decriminalising drugs would normalise them.
He said: "When it comes to normalisation, unfortunately for around 20,000 Irish people who are addicted to heroin, drugs are a very normal part of their daily life.
"So how do we deal with this? Do we pretend it doesn't exist or go along the just say no route, do we have zero tolerance - which just doesn't work - or do we approach this in a way which might have some actual results?"
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The former Drugs Minister also said that rather than benefit the criminal gangs who are supplying the substances, it would actually free up gardai and the courts system to focus on them.
He said: "We' not decriminalising the drug, we're decriminalising the individual and that's a very important point to make.
"The drugs and trade of them will still be illegal and the gangs selling them will have more attention paid to them because you won't be paying as much attention to dragging people who have addiction issues through the criminal justice system.
"That's the fundamental point of this."