When a drug user is caught injecting in an Irish city, gardaí are compelled to arrest them.
They are taken into detention, put through the criminal justice system and treatment is not usually the resolution. The process can be damaging to everybody involved, not least gardaí.
One expert source told TheJournal.ie: ”When gardaí arrest somebody taking heroin down a laneway there is no beneficiary. The idea of decriminalisation makes mountains of sense.”
This week saw the publication of a landmark Oireachtas report by the justice committee which ‘strongly recommended’ the decriminalisation of cannabis, cocaine and heroin for personal use.
Looking to Portugal
The report comes after the committee accepted submissions from more than 70 interested groups and follows a visit by a delegation to Portugal where the possession of a small quantity of drugs does not result in a criminal record.
The news has been welcomed by organisations working with addicts and those on the frontline of the country’s streets. Tony Duffin is the director of the Ana Liffey Drug Project, an organisation that aims to help drug users in cities and towns across Ireland.
“We feel that anything that ends the criminalisation and stigmatisation of young people has to be a good thing,” he told TheJournal.ie. “I think people all over the world are looking at Ireland right now in terms of drug policy. We are seeing a lot of positive steps being taken in the past week and the response that we’re hearing has been overwhelmingly positive.”
His views are echoed by Tony Geoghegan, chief executive of homeless and drug services group Merchant’s Quay Ireland, who believes the move will offer a better opportunity for drug users hoping to kick the habit.
“We believe it is wrong to implement a ‘one size fits all’ approach when dealing with drug addiction and that is exactly what the criminal justice system does,” Geoghegan said.
However, fresh legislation is not the only element of drug culture changing here. Findings released by the National Student Drugs Survey this year show that preferences of young users are shifting. Ecstasy use was 6% higher in Ireland than the global average while use of the tranquiliser-turned-party-drug Ketamine was more than twice as high as elsewhere.
The internet has also offered a new way of acquiring substances. Some Irish drug users are no longer purchasing drugs through traditional means on the streets but instead are going online to get high.
The National Student Drugs Survey found that almost one in five respondents had used the so-called ‘dark web’ to anonymously purchase drugs online.
The ‘dark web’ is a hidden part of the internet, accessible only by specialist plugins that allow users to surf undetected online. Anonymity has ensured that the network has become a hub for consumers looking to purchase illegal goods and services – including illicit drugs – online. The purchase of drugs is made simpler by the usage of anonymous currencies such as Bitcoin which allow users to cover their tracks further.
Is it safer?
One Dublin city drug worker claims that the number of people using the shadow network is growing as users purchase illicit substances from dealers abroad and inside Ireland. Speaking anonymously he said: “People are definitely using the dark web to purchase drugs here in Ireland and I would personally know a number of people who have used the service. The marketplace is controversial given the difficulties faced by law enforcement agencies in tracking down those buying and selling drugs there.
Garda Drugs & Organised Crime Bureau Detective Sergeant Brian Roberts told TheJournal.ie: “One of the modern challenges of drug policing globally is the availability of controlled drugs on the open internet and on encrypted layers of the internet known as the dark web. An Garda Síochána proactively monitors these market places and working together with Customs, postal packages are regularly intercepted and prosecutions ensue where a criminal offence is disclosed. People should be aware that even if they are ordering a small amount of drugs on these marketplaces they are committing a criminal offence of importing drugs.”
However, some of those who work with drug users believe that the availability of illicit substances online could be a positive step which makes it safer for drug takers to buy substances which are of a higher quality than those available on the street.
“The dark web is certainly a lot safer for users given the fact that the relationship between buyer and seller takes place online, removing the threat of physical violence,” said Tim Bingham of the Irish Needle Exchange Forum. The vendors tend to operate using a rating system so if a user receives drugs that are of poor quality then they can bad mouth the seller publicly. In this way some of the market places on the dark web are self policing.”
Speaking about changing trends in drug usage in Ireland, Bingham told TheJournal.ie that users are becoming more knowledgeable about what they want to take. Meanwhile, he also agreed that the drugs chosen by Irish users had changed in recent years.
“We are seeing a lot more cannabis, MDMA and there has been a lot more Ketamine use in the past 12 months. Generally speaking ‘legal highs’ are not popular among general drug users. There are some pockets of the country where they still exist but generally people have turned away from them in recent years.
But as both laws and attitudes soften, is there a chance that Ireland will face an increase in addiction and problem drug users?
“If you take any substance whether alcohol or illicit drugs, there will always be around 10% of users who suffer from addiction,” Ana Liffey’s Duffin said. Looking at the Portuguese example, the research has shown that there has not been a significant increase in the number of people using drugs following decriminalisation.” he added.
The Journalie/Nov. 7, 2015