06/11/17 Doug McVay

This week we hear more from a debate in the Irish Senate on a bill to decriminalize simple personal possession of drugs, with speakers including Senator Matt Daly, Senator Victor Boyhan, Ireland's Drug Czar Catherine Byrne, and Senator Lynne Ruane.

Century of Lies
Sunday, June 11, 2017
Doug McVay
Drug War Facts
Download: Audio icon col061117.mp3



JUNE 11, 2017


DEAN BECKER: The failure of drug war is glaringly obvious to judges, cops, wardens, prosecutors, and millions more now calling for for decriminalization, legalization, the end of prohibition. Let us investigate the Century Of Lies.

DOUG MCVAY: Hello, and welcome to Century Of Lies. Century Of Lies is a production of the Drug Truth Network for the Pacifica Foundation Radio Network, on the web at DrugTruth.net. I'm your host Doug McVay, editor of DrugWarFacts.org.

Well, in May, a bill was introduced in the Irish Senate, the Seanad Éireann, which is the upper house of the Oireachtas, which is the Republic of Ireland's national parliament. The Controlled Drugs and Harm Reduction Bill 2017 implements harm reduction by decriminalizing personal possession of illegal drugs and shifts overall policy emphasis from criminal justice to a public health orientation.

That bill was introduced by Senator Lynn Ruane. On May 31, the Senead held a debate on the bill. We heard last week from Senator Ruane and Senator Ó Ríordáin, and also from Senator Niall O Donnghaile. This week, we're going to hear from Senator Mark Daly and Senator Victor Boyhan.

SENATOR PAUL COGHLAN: Senator Mark Daly, you have eight minutes.

SENATOR MARK DALY: Thank you. Thank you, Cathaoirleach, and I'd like to thank Lynn Ruane and Aodhán Ó Ríordáin for bringing forward this bill, and, it's correct to say that it's -- the war on drugs hasn't worked, and it has turned into a war on poor people.

It's a war on the sick, and when you see that we have the third highest overdose rate in Europe, it shows that our systems in all respects are failing. When you see 679 people dying from overdoses, which is three times higher than those who die from road traffic accidents, and you imagine the amount of effort and energy and resources put into trying to reduce the amount of people who are speeding on our road and entire days devoted to speed reduction, which was only last Friday, and yet, trying to help those who are sick and who are in addiction because of the circumstances of their birth primarily, and it is, I suppose, disheartening to hear that we're talking about a drug strategy from 2015, and here we are, two years later, and still awaiting progress.

What I think, in relation to the progress on this issue, in terms of getting it right, at the detail on committee stage, and ensuring then it is brought across the line, as members here who have tried to introduce private member's bills and who were involved in legislation, it requires relentless effort to make sure that, despite the idea that we're all in favor of the substance of the debate, as the former minister in charge of this strategy who seconded this proposal would know, it is so difficult to get from the policy to the committee -- the legislation to get across the line.

And then more importantly, to get the resources that will make the difference, because the legislation without resources is of no use. And why I say it's a war on poor people, we all know that a poor person, a family who has a son and daughter in addiction, who's going to the court, if they're poor, they're going to end up in jail. But if they have a son and daughter and they're a rich family, they're not going to go to jail.

I mean, the statistics will show that they, because the appeal is made to the judge, they're from a good family. What does that mean? That means that the judge should treat people equally? Obviously not. They treat the rich better than the poor because they're from a good family? That is not how the justice system is supposed to be blind, and give justice equally, therefore it should treat the poor the same as it treats the rich, the son and daughter of the rich person who gets off because they're from the -- their family are respectable, whatever that is meant to mean.

But I reflect upon the issue of addiction because I remember meeting Tony Paget, who was Ireland's person of the year in 2002, and Tony, Tony jumped into the River Liffey to save a bus driver who had driven off the road, and Person of the Year, homeless, ended up getting the award, the tuxedo, the one night in the hotel, and he was kicked out onto the street. Ireland's Person of the Year 2002 [sic: 2001]. It's an amazing way to treat such a citizen.

Tony ended up back on the street for months and months and months, but that was addiction. He was a sick person. He wasn't a criminal. He had plenty of time in court, as Tony had, but if Tony had been from a respectable family, Tony would never have been in prison, never seen the inside of prison.

So essentially, the bill as we know has all the research done. No one is a better expert than the Senator herself, and the person who has seconded it, who's, you know, knows the department inside out. The problem is in our new politics, the system, the officials, the department, aren't able to contend with the fact that someone is a better expert than they themselves. The expert is over there.

The committee stage is to come, and, you know, that is where new politics and that's where, as legislators, we have to get used to the idea that we no longer can just come in, get our second stage passed, and then go, wasn't that a great day in court, because people outside think that we have the bill passed. We know how far it has to go yet, but it will require this daughter remain, for the senator to remain in her post for, whether there's an election soon because legislation can jump into the next seating, and the next seating, but, I suppose, I know the senator to be relentless in her life, and I know in politics she has proven that too.

So, much persistence is required because the change it will make in terms of decriminalizing those who are found in possession, for here and for generations to come, is very important. So, while we are obviously disappointed with the delay, it is not defeat. It will require the relentless persistence of the senator, and we will hopefully support all those proposals in the nuts and bolts that is required at committee stage to make sure that when those proposals come back and when they are seen to be ineffective as the senators would be aware, and don't do the job at hand, and don't ultimately help what is sick people, then explaining that to us and to all those involved is important, but it will, it will be done. That's because it's the right thing to do. But it will require persistence, and relentless pursuit of what is a just cause. Thank you.

SENATOR VICTOR BOYHAN: Cathaoirleach, firstly I want to welcome the minister to the house today, and to thank her for her longstanding commitment in this whole area. I chiefly want to thank Senator Lynn Ruane and Aodhán Ó Ríordáin. It isn't easy to convince this house, I assure you on personal experiences, and I think Lynn has done that, on many, many occasions, she has clearly, you know, huge knowledge of this whole area, has researched this bill well, has worked and shared with other people's experiences, to hone in on particular issues that she thinks are appropriate in this bill, and I think that's great.

And, I don't necessarily accept this defeatist attitude. Remember, we are in the Oireachtas. This is the senate. We shouldn't be accepting that there's nothing going to happen. It's going to happen because we've got to make it happen, and none of these mob coming in here, and people bellyaching about this and that, and we can do nothing and it's new politics. We're in politics now, for this time, for this moment, and if we don't deliver, we don't deserve to be here. It's as simple as that. That's the bottom line.

And I wouldn't want to be here if I felt it wasn't making some contribution. This is the time. You're the minister. Today. And, and I acknowledge, and it's not a criticism of you, minister, I absolutely acknowledge your absolute support. But I just think, we're elected here to bring in legislation. It's as simple as that. And I think we need to set out out the course. And if Fine Fail, or Fine Gael, or any other party has a problem, come in here and exercise the proper democratic mandate. Engage in the legislative procedures. Put down your amendments. Make it a better bill. But put in your amendments.

I want to acknowledge a few things. Firstly I want to acknowledge my name, all of the senators who signed, who took the political courage in our hand and signed to endorse this bill that's before us today. They are, of course, Senator Ruane, Senator O’Riordain, Senator Kelleher, Senator Higgins, Senator O’Sullivan, Senator Dolan, Senator Black, Senator Norris, my colleague on the right hand side, Senator McDowell, Senator Craughwell, myself, Senator Lawless, Senator Freeman, Senator O Domhnaill, Senator Bacik, Senator Nash, and Senator Humphreys.

They're the people that considered that this was a good piece of legislation. They gave it thought, consideration, and they signed it. I wouldn't have signed this bill if I thought it was going to be some charter for drug pushers, or drug dealers. That's what this is not about.

And I want to make it very clear, that's my understanding. This is not a charter for some drug dealers for further business. They need to be taken on. They are criminals. They are destroying people's lives, they are destroying communities, they are destroying families. But let's not criminalize everybody. This bill, I firmly believe, is progressive, it's humane, it's compassionate. And that's why I'm supporting it. How could you not? It's progressive, humane, and it's compassionate, and it's responsive to the needs of people that have suffered for far too long.

For individuals who want to get on with their life, who do want to access services, who do want to have meaningful relationships and families and work, and get on with their lives, and play a role. This drug issue isn't something for some poor people. There are drugs, cocaine, you name it, in every walk of life. That's the reality. There are people on -- overdosing on medication, other drugs, pharmaceutical drugs, all sorts of drugs. Let's not forget that.

And what's the difference in all of this? Yes, some people haven't got the supports. Yes, some people are marginalized. Yes, some people don't have houses. Yes, some people don't have a listening ear, or a bit of compassion to help them on their way, and really don't care if they survive or succeed or get on. So I think this bill is addressing some of those very fundamental issues, and I think that's really, really important to say.

I would urge all political parties in here, if they can make this a better bill, then we want to hear from them. Just some context. The purpose of this bill, the purpose of this bill is to provide a 21st century approach to solving Ireland's ongoing drug problem. We all recognize and acknowledge that. The bill provides for an amendment to the Misuse of Drugs Acts of 1977 to 2016 by insertion of a new Section Three into the principal act. This will decriminalize possession of controlled drugs, providing the amount possessed is for personal use only and does not exceed the authorized amount as regulated by the minister. That's important. As regulated by the minister. That's clearly set out.

I want to give some context to this. In 2015, the Joint Committee on Justice, Defense, and Equality undertook a process of examining ways to reduce harm caused by substance abuse in Ireland. The committee examined, and indeed traveled to Lisbon in Portugal, to review their strategy, and what regime they had in place. Members of the public and civil society were invited to make submissions to the public hearings following that, there was a report in relation to the matter, which is way back in November 2015.

The committee made a number of recommendations and I'm not going to go into all of them, but I'm singling out a few of their recommendations, and this is after all a joint houses of the Oireachtas committee. It said, the committee strongly recommends and recommended the introduction of harm -- of a harm reducing and rehabilitative approach where the possession of small amounts of illegal drugs for personal use could be dealt with by way of a civil administrative response, rather than by a criminal justice route. That's what this committee, Oireachtas committee, said.

The committee also recommended there's discretion of the applicant for this approach would remain with An Garda Síochána and health providers in respect to the way in which an individual in possession of small amounts of drugs for personal use might be treated.

The committee recommends that any harm reducing rehabilitation approach be applied on a case by case basis, with appropriately resourced services available for those affected, including resources for assessment, et cetera.

Minister, in the program for government 2016, the program stated, in 2016, and I quote: "The program for government 2016 committed to among others, 1: completing work and commencing the implementation of the new national drugs strategy within 12 months." That's well and truly lapsed. We can no longer keep having excuses. That's what the government, the program of government, signed up to and said they would deliver. They simply have not delivered. And I think we need to touch on that.

We can't keep pushing out the goalpost because it suits people to dodge making real issues. Why isn't this national drugs strategy complete, when will it be complete? You might share the detail with that. Also in the program for government 2016, it says we will support a health led -- this is really important, because this is in the program for government -- we will support a health led rather than a criminal justice approach to drug use. Now there it is, and I welcome that, and I welcome the fact that that's in the program for government, and that's really, really positive.

I think there's a real opportunity. It is about being brave. It is about being courageous. It is about putting, going forward, it is about us making the hard decision, and bringing in legislation. And I finally wrap up by saying, this is a blue -- this is the beginning, it's a bill, it's a process. Again, I want to commend Lynn, and Senator Ó Ríordáin for leading this, Aodhán Ó Ríordáin for leading this, but if anyone can make it better, come in here. Exercise the proccesses. Exercise the various stages in the legislative process to make it a better bill. I personally support the bill. I commend all involved in preparing for it, and I also commend all the people who shared their personal experiences to bring this bill to the stage it is now. Thank you.

DOUG MCVAY: That was Irish Senator Mark Daly, followed by Irish Senator Victor Boyhan. You're listening to Century of Lies, a production of the Drug Truth Network for the Pacifica Foundation Radio Network, on the web at DrugTruth.net. I'm your host Doug McVay, editor of DrugWarFacts.org.

Now, let's hear from the drug czar of Ireland, as she dismisses this bill. This will be Catherine Byrne.

CATHERINE BYRNE: This can very -- very severe repercussions for young people, and their future prospects, and can pack down their drug use potential for rehabilitation and reintegration into society.

However, finding an alternative approach to criminal sanction in cases involving possession amount -- a small amount of illegal drug for personal use is a complex matter, and we need to ensure that any changes will be appropriate in the Irish context.

In Ireland, there has been a great interest in the Portuguese model, under which it is all stills -- it is still an offense to possess an illegal drug, but is now treated as a civil administrative matter in certain cases. In 2015, a joint Oireachtas Committee on Justice, Defense, and Equality, visited Portugal, held public hearings, and produced a report which concluded that the health led approach may be more effective and more appropriate for those found in possession of small amounts of illegal drugs for personal use, rather than a criminal sanction.

I believe that we need to further explore the Portuguese model and other international models, and that in finding an alternative approach to criminal sanctions in cases that involved possession of small amounts of illegal drugs for personal use is an issue which we now need to be dealt with in the context of the new national drugs strategy.

The national drugs strategy steering committee has been given the mandate to develop an integrated public health approach to substance issues. This, consistent with the Portu -- program for government commitment to supporting a health led rather than a criminal justice approach to drug use. The need for a health led approach to those with drug related problems was also raised repeatedly during the public consultation of the new strategy. This reflected welcoming change to public attitude to the people -- to people with drug problems.

The steering committee on the new strategy is expected to report shortly, within the next two weeks. This report will advise on the further directions of government policy in tackling the drug problem, and addressing a number of the issues raised in the bill.

The steering committee considered the case for a health led and harm reduction approach to the need of those found in possession of a small amount of illegal drugs for personal use, and I understand there were a number of issues that the committee felt needed to be looked at before recommending any change in the policies in this area.

In Ireland, substance -- in Ireland, substances that may cause harm, which have prone to misuse, are controlled under the Misuse of Drugs Act. Under the legislation, unless expressly allowed to do so, it is illegal to possess, supply, manufacture, import, or export a controlled substance. The objective of the legislative framework is to protect the public from dangers or potential dangers and harmful substances. We will continue to need a framework in Ireland to protect people's health from risk of -- by using dangerous or harmful substances.

We need to understand the potential impact of outcomes from the individuals, their families, and society. We need to ensure we incorporate well thought out workable processes in any proposal. It would also be important to understand the consequences for the health system and the criminal justice system of any alternative model.

It is intended that the report of the national drugs strategy steering committee, which is shortly due, will align the recommendation that will establish a working group to examine the issue in more detail and is to report back to the minister who is in charge within 12 months.

While I believe this bill is well intended, I do have significant and serious issues with part of it. Misuse of Drugs Act was designed to prevent the abuse of certain drugs, and with regulating various professional activities associated with such substances. It imposes prohibitation on various activ -- actives -- associated with controlled drugs, while contents provisions and protective obligations to ensure that certain controlled drugs are available.

Any person or classes of person are enabled to do certain things with these drugs for medical, industrial, and scientific purposes. Possession is most basic offense under the act, and is a con -- con -- consistent element, sorry, of many other offenses contained within the act. This bill removes prohibitation on the offense of possession, and replaces it with nothing. That would adversely affect the ability to control these potent and dangerous drugs.

The bill would effectively legalize possession of all drugs for personal use, and would mean that the posses -- person in possession of controlled drugs would not be prosecuted under the Misuse of Drugs legislation. When the quantity is determined to be for personal use, it would become effectively legal to possess drugs like heroin, cocaine, cannabis, and so-called legal highs, such as nBombs. This is not decrimination, this -- decriminalization, this is de facto legislat -- legalization.

The bill removes the offenses of possession and replaces it with nothing. This is the problem, and I believe that the legislation has to be carefully crafted to ensure that no unintended and undesirable consequences occur.

Another area of concern for me is the fact that under the bill, the amount of each drug for personal use would be set by the minister. This would provide very difficult -- considering the huge number of different drugs available in the country, and the different effects that they have on the body, on each individual body, and we saw that not so long ago, in Cork last year, where young lads dabbled in taking drugs, tablets, and unfortunately one of them passed away because everybody is different and everybody's reaction to taking a certain drug, so I would find very difficult of a minister to be able to quantify how much drugs people could take on a legal basis.

The Misuse of Drugs legislation is complex -- sorry, I'll just finish.

SENATOR PAUL COUGHLAN: Without an -- sorry, thanks.

CATHERINE BYRNE: You can come back to me if you like.

The minister -- the Misuse of Drugs legislation is a complex and amendments need to be carefully considered and constructive so as not to undermine other provisions within the legislation. Possession of a controlled drug is a fundamental offense created under the Misuse of Drugs Act, and possession is a consistent element of many other offenses within the act.

The bill as proposed is to replace Section Three, undermines the crucial tend to construction of the entire Misuse of Drugs legislation in Ireland. It removes prohibitation on the offense of possession of controlled drugs. Without the fundamental prohibitation on offenses of possession, there can be no particular or legitimate mechanism for controlling the import, manufacture, production, preparation, or transport of controlled drugs for many legitimate and important medical industries and scientific use. This includes use by healthcare professionals or patients with prescriptions.

As we all do, and I mean this sincerely, as we all do, need a compassionate and human approach -- humane approach to drug users who come into contact with the criminal justice system. For a change to our legislation on such an important matter requires careful consideration, and public buy-in. As a result, this is not -- is a matter that needs to be dealt with under the national drugs strategy, and dealt with as a matter of urgency.

I look forward to bringing my proposals to the new national drugs strategy committee to government at the earliest opportunity so we can start the process of implementing an integrated public health approach to the drug problem in our society.

Let me just finish chair by saying off the written record, it's just, again, I want to commend Lynn for the work that she's done on this. This hasn't gone away, Lynn, this is only the beginning of this bill. And anything I can do through the national drugs strategy with the steering -- with the working group that's set up to help, I suppose, put in place a bill that covers all angles and doesn't leave us open to any legal challenge, I think is the most important thing.

And I think we have to accept the fact, when a bill comes into either of the houses here, there has to be scrutinized, not only by the department, by the minister, but through the legislative thing as well. There are complications with the bill that we have found. We need to rectify them. We need to look at them in more detail, but most of all, we need not to stop the conversation around this, and just to commend you again. I believe what you've done this evening is open up an avenue to many people in this room who would never have been able to stand up and speak openly about their addiction, how it's affected our families, how it's affected our communities, but above all, how it's affected the people in our country.

And just to thank you, and to thank the senators for allowing me the time here this evening, and I will continue to work with you, one way or the other, whether [inaudible], I will continue to work to help through the national drugs strategy, because we all have a voice in this, to bring legislation forward. It's very important for young people. Thanks.

SENATOR PAUL COGHLAN: Thank you, minister. As the time now is up, can I call on the leader to move the adjournment of this matter?

SENATOR LYNN RUANE: Yeah, I'm okeh to adjourn the matter, but I just wanted to clarify one thing before I do, because I feel it's important to finish on that as a point of order.

SENATOR PAUL COGHLAN: Well, senator, we're not finishing today. There are two further speakers, Senator Warfield and Senator Frances Black. Point of order, just. We're not finished. We're adjourning, we're adjourning, sorry. Have you a point of order?

SENATOR LYNN RUANE: Yeah, well, it's just because we're -- I have to obviously say that, and giving the permission for it to be adjourned, because it obviously it's my private member's time --

SENATOR PAUL COGHLAN: I'm -- well, the house will decide. I'm going to call on the leader.

SENATOR LYNN RUANE: But just in relation, a point of order, the relation of some of the, what I feel are not factual parts of the bill in relation --

SENATOR PAUL COGHLAN: Oh, I'm sorry, sorry. With respect, senator, they're not points of order. You know we're, you --

SENATOR LYNN RUANE: Well, if wrong facts, if wrong facts --

SENATOR PAUL COGHLAN: You will have the opportunity, senator, to conclude the debate --

SENATOR LYNN RUANE: The Tánaiste's officials, the Tánaiste's officials, an ex-attorney general, and everybody, the justice spokesperson for other parties, have not ever once raised a concern of legalization. I need to get that point before we adjourn. This bill does not in any way promote legalization.

SENATOR PAUL COGHLAN: I'm most sorry, you're out of order. I'm calling on the leader to move the adjournment of this matter. Agreed? Agreed. Next item.

DOUG MCVAY: What you just heard was Catherine Byrne misrepresenting a bill in the Irish Senate. You then heard objections from Senator Lynn Ruane, the chief sponsor and author of that bill. Unfortunately Senator Ruane attempted a point of order and was ruled out of order by the deputy speaker of the senate, and that is Paul Coghlan.

Consideration of the bill will be postponed until after the Irish drug strategy is released, sometime in the month of June. Ireland is going to be interesting. Catherine Byrne of course is the current drug czar. She's from the Fine Gael Party. The Fine Gael Party just elected a new leader, which means there will be a new prime minister in the Republic of Ireland. That would be Leo Varadkar. Leo Varadkar is gay and the son of an Indian immigrant, so, it's a first on many levels for the Republic of Ireland. Having said that, he's anti-abortion, he's neo-liberal/conservative, and where he will come down on drug policy is hard to say, but it's not necessarily a good thing.

But we'll see, as time goes by. I'm hoping we can get people from Ireland, in particular folks from SSDP Ireland, on the show in the next couple of weeks to see how they feel things are going and to get their perspective.

And well, that's it for this week. I want to thank you for joining us. You're listening to Century of Lies. We're a production of the Drug Truth Network for the Pacifica Foundation Radio Network, on the web at DrugTruth.net. The executive producer of the Drug Truth Network is Dean Becker. Drug Truth Network programming is also available via podcast, the URLs to subscribe are on the network home page at DrugTruth.net.

The Drug Truth Network is on Facebook, please give its page a like. Drug War Facts is on Facebook too, give its page a like and share it with friends. Remember: Knowledge is power. Follow me on Twitter, I'm @DougMcVay and of course also @DrugPolicyFacts.

We'll be back next week with thirty more minutes of news and information about the drug war and this century of lies. For now, for the Drug Truth Network, this is Doug McVay saying so long. So long!

For the Drug Truth Network, this is Doug McVay asking you to examine our policy of drug prohibition: the century of lies. Drug Truth Network programs archived at the James A. Baker III Institute for Public Policy.