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How Far is Ireland from Legalising Marijuana?

Last Updated on November 4, 2020

Ireland is a country that adopted a tough stance on marijuana. But, as more countries across the world prepare to legalise cannabis, it seems that the Irish are starting to change their minds. In June 2019, Ireland’s Minister of Health signed off on a program that will facilitate access to medical cannabis products for five years.

This is an important first piece of cannabis legislation, but will Ireland legalise cannabis for good? Read on to find out.

Current cannabis laws in Ireland

Cannabis is currently illegal in Ireland. The Irish Misuse of Drugs Act makes the distinction between possession for personal use and possessing it with the intent to supply. And the legal punishment reflects this distinction.

If an individual is caught with a small quantity of cannabis and is a first-time offender, he or she can receive a fine of €1,000 based on a summary conviction made by a District Court. If the same individual is caught again, he or she risks a €2,500 fine as a second-time offender. The court may impose prison sentences of up to 12 months for third and subsequent convictions.

Individuals who are caught with large quantities of cannabis in Ireland risk prison sentences of up to seven years or more, depending on their individual circumstances.

Growing your own marijuana is also illegal in Ireland, even though some Irish choose to ignore it. Individuals who break this law are punished differently, depending on how many plants they grow. Those who grow a single plant risk getting a fine, those who grow several risk sentences of up to 12 months of prison, while those who grow many risk spending up to 14 years in prison.

One particularity of the Irish drug laws is that they also prohibit selling or importing cannabis cultivation equipment. Individuals who knowingly sell equipment that can be used to cultivate weed by hydroponic means commit a criminal offence and risk a fine.

Selling marijuana is also illegal in Ireland, and the penalties imposed depend on circumstances like the offender’s criminal record and the quantity of cannabis involved. First-time offenders might get off with a €2,500 fine if the quantity is small, while repeat offenders might get a prison sentence of 10 years or more if they wanted to sell a large quantity of weed.

Medical marijuana in Ireland

Despite its harsh stance on marijuana, Ireland has a long history of allowing drug trials for cannabis extracts. Ireland first granted a licence to GW Pharmaceuticals to test the effects of nabiximols (Sativex) back in 2002.

The trial was considered a success, and in 2014 the Irish government amended the country’s cannabis regulations to allow nabiximols to be prescribed to patients. This amendment allowed doctors to prescribe cannabis to patients who suffered from multiple sclerosis or epilepsy, and to those who were going through chemotherapy treatments.

The first patient to use medical marijuana in Ireland was a two-year-old boy with Dravet syndrome who started his cannabis treatment in Colorado.

Then, in June 2019, Ireland’s Minister of Health approved a pilot program for medical cannabis. The Medical Cannabis Access Programme adds upon the 2014 legislation and expands the list of drugs patients can access. Doctors can now prescribe three cannabis-based products as a treatment, instead of just a single one.

While medical cannabis is still illegal in Ireland besides the three aforementioned approved products, this pilot program allows marijuana suppliers to apply for a licence to supply the Irish medical system with cannabis products, so the list might expand in the future.

Hemp and CBD are legal in Ireland

The Irish have been growing hemp for hundreds of years before it was banned at the start of the 20th century. Then, in 1995, the Irish government lifted the ban on hemp and allowed farmers to grow it on plantations.

Farmers who want to grow hemp have to apply for a licence from the Department of Health and Children. The licence is approved only if the plantation is located far from public roads and all the seeds used belong to cannabis strains that contain less than 0.2 percent tetrahydrocannabinol (THC).

Nowadays, Irish farmers are not particularly crazy about hemp, and only a handful grow it nowadays. But, given the fact that the cannabis industry proves to be profitable , more farmers might consider growing it in the near future.

Further, Irish laws do not prohibit the production, distribution and sale of cannabidiol (CBD). The authorities know that CBD does not produce psychoactive effects, so they allow the sale of CBD products, such as CBD oils or CBD topicals, that have THC concentrations lower than 0.2 percent. That being said, the laws around CBD in Ireland are quite convoluted.

The authorities in Ireland do, however, prohibit sellers to advertise hemp and CBD oils as medicine. Sellers can market the oils as food supplements, but they are not allowed to make any health claims regarding their products.

If the sellers claim that certain hemp products produce health benefits, they have the obligation to be authorised by the Health Products Regulatory Authority or risk a fine.

Marijuana in Irish politics

Cannabis is not a hot topic in Irish politics, but it’s still a topic that comes up from time to time, usually around major elections. In Ireland, 2020 was an election year, and the general elections were held on the 8th of February. Prior to the elections, Ireland’s political parties shared their views on cannabis legalisation.

A spokesperson for Fine Gael declared that the party has no plans to legalise recreational cannabis. However, the spokesperson also said that the party would move away from criminalising first-time offenders. This would allow first-time offenders to seek help and support from health or social services instead of gaining a criminal record that could destroy their lives.

A spokesperson for Fianna Fáil declared that the party believes Ireland should explore a model of criminalisation where proper treatment and healthcare services are prioritised over criminal justice for drug offenders accused of personal use.

The Labour Party declared that addiction is a health problem and it would not penalise minor possession of drugs, somewhat similar to what’s happening in Portugal .

The Green Party stated that they would decriminalise the possession of small quantities of marijuana in Ireland and would allow prescription of cannabis-based medicines through pharmacies.

Solidarity and their allies, People Before Profit, support the decriminalisation of all drugs for personal use, while the National party said that it strongly opposes the decriminalisation or legalisation of any drug.

Will Ireland legalise marijuana in the near future?

A recent study that interviewed 7,005 Irish citizens showed that 87.1 percent of the participants believed that it would be easy or very easy to obtain cannabis in a 24-hour period. So, cannabis is easy to get a hold of in Ireland, which means that the Irish government should regulate the trade to protect its citizens and tax it to increase its budget.

Moreover, 74.5 percent of the respondents agreed that people should be able to use cannabis for medical reasons, so the country’s current policy on medical marijuana could be improved. Since a large percentage of the population believes cannabis can and should be used for medicinal purposes, the government should consider legalising cannabis flower for this purpose.

But the study also showed that the majority of the participants (66.4 percent) believed that people shouldn’t use cannabis recreationally. Irish lawmakers should consult with more of their voters and with medical professionals before passing a law in this direction.

Now, most countries are taking steps towards cannabis legalisation because the experience of multiple North American states has proven that marijuana legalisation can be profitable for local budgets. The surplus income could help any county, including Ireland.

However, cannabis legalisation doesn’t seem to be a priority for the Irish government at the moment, so it won’t come soon. Ireland will probably not legalise marijuana for recreational use until the late 2020s or the 2030s.

In 2019, a program granting access to medical cannabis for five years got signed off, which is an important first step. But will Ireland legalise marijuana?

Drug offences

Introduction

The Misuse of Drugs Act 1977 and the Misuse of Drugs Act 1984 are the primary pieces of legislation under which you can be criminally charged for drug offences. This legislation has been further amended by the Criminal Justice Act 1999, the Criminal Justice Act 2006, the Criminal Justice Act 2007 and the Misuse of Drugs (Amendment) Act 2015.

The Misuse of Drugs Regulations list the different substances that the legislation applies to. The Criminal Justice (Psychoactive Substances) Act 2010 also covers substances which are not specifically banned under the Misuse of Drugs Acts, but which have psychoactive effects.

The main criminal charges for drug offences are offences of drug possession and possession for the purpose of supply.

The Misuse of Drugs (Supervised Injecting Facilities Act) 2017 provides for the establishment and regulation of supervised injecting facilities. These facilities aim to reduce harm to people who inject drugs, reduce the number of people injecting drugs in public places and reduce drug litter in public places.

How the Garda Síochána tackle drug abuse and drug trafficking

The Garda Síochána has a number of units and initiatives aimed at combating drug abuse and drug trafficking internationally and locally. These include:

  • The Garda National Drugs and Organised Crime Bureau which targets national and international drugs trafficking
  • The Criminal Assets Bureau which seizes the assets of people who have been convicted of drug trafficking
  • Local Drugs Units which police the drugs situation at local level
  • Garda juvenile liaison officers who work with young people to try and prevent them from getting involved with drugs
  • Community Policing Fora which have been set up in some areas to deal with a drug problem in a community with the help of the community
  • The Dial to Stop Drug Dealing initiative which provides a confidential and anonymous way for someone to pass information to the Gardaí about drug dealing in their community
  • Awareness-raising programmes such as the Garda Schools Programme and the Juvenile Diversion Programme

How the Customs and Excise service tackle drug trafficking

The Customs and Excise service are responsible for detecting and seizing controlled drugs at importation. The Gardaí and the Custom and Excise service cooperate closely in the area of drug law enforcement. There is a joint task force involving the Gardaí, the Customs and Excise service and the Naval Services. These bodies liaise at a local level to prevent drug trafficking. The Customs and Excise service is involved in the Multi-Disciplinary Group on Organised Crime and are also very involved with the Gardaí in the operation of the Criminal Assets Bureau. The Customs National Drug Team was set up by the Revenue Commissioners to tackle the illegal importation of drugs into Ireland.

Customs National Drug Team

The Customs National Drug Team (CNDT) concentrates solely on combating the importation of illegal drugs into Ireland. The CNDT has its Head Office in Dublin and intelligence units, operational units, maritime units and drug detector dog units placed at all major ports and airports and at various coastal locations nationwide. All CNDT units are mobile and can be deployed to other locations as necessary. The CNDT is supported by outfield officials who are also responsible for the detection and prevention of drug smuggling as part of their normal duties.

Rules

Possession of controlled drugs – cannabis or cannabis resin

Under the Misuse of Drugs Acts anyone found in possession of cannabis or cannabis resin is guilty of an offence. If the court decides that the drug was for personal use and not for sale or distribution and this was a first offence, it can impose a class D fine on summary conviction in a District Court. On conviction on indictment, the defendant can be fined €2,500. For a second offence, a class D fine can be imposed on summary conviction. On conviction on indictment, a fine of €2,500 can be imposed. For a third or subsequent conviction, a class C fine can be imposed. If the court decides, a prison sentence of up to 12 months can also be imposed. On conviction on indictment, the court may decide on an appropriate fine, or a prison sentence of up to three years, or both.

Possession of any other controlled drugs

It is an offence to be in possession of a controlled drug and on summary conviction for this offence, you could be liable for a class C fine or a prison sentence of up to 12 months. If the court decides, you could be liable for both. On conviction on indictment for possessing controlled drugs, the court can decide on an appropriate fine and you could also be liable for a prison sentence of up to 7 years. Again, if the court decides, you could be liable for both.

Growing cannabis plants or opium poppies

It is also an offence to grow cannabis plants or opium poppies and on summary conviction for this offence, you could be liable for a class C fine, or a prison sentence of no longer than 12 months. If the court decides, you could be liable for both. On conviction on indictment for growing these plants, the court can decide on an appropriate fine and you could also be liable for a prison sentence of up to 14 years. Again, if the court decides, you could be liable for both.

Opium regulations

It is an offence:

  • To use prepared opium (heroin) for illegal use
  • To go to a place for the purposes of using opium
  • To have any paraphernalia (pipes, utensils) associated with illegal opium use in your possession

On summary conviction for this offence, you could be liable for a class C fine or a prison sentence of up to 12 months. If the court decides, you could be liable for both. On conviction on indictment for this offence, the court can decide on an appropriate fine and you could also be liable for a prison sentence of up to 14 years. Again, if the court decides, you could be liable for both.

Possession of controlled drugs for sale or supply

It is an offence to be in possession of a controlled drug with the intention of selling it illegally. Anyone found guilty of this offence is liable to a class C fine on summary conviction in a District Court. If the court decides, they could be subject to a fine and a prison term not exceeding 12 months. On conviction on indictment for this offence, the court can decide on an appropriate fine. The court can also impose a life sentence for this offence if it decides it is necessary. However, lesser sentences can also be imposed, either with a fine or alone.

Where the market value of the drugs is €13,000 or more, the person convicted is liable for a minimum sentence of 10 years. However, this does not apply, if the court is satisfied that there are exceptional circumstances. Similar penalties apply to someone convicted of importing drugs with a value of €13,000 or more.

Anyone found guilty of supplying or attempting to supply a controlled drug into a prison, children detention school or remand centre can receive a class B fine on summary conviction, or a prison term of up to 12 months, or both. On conviction on indictment, the court can impose an appropriate fine or a maximum prison term of 10 years, or both.

Under the Criminal Justice (Psychoactive Substances) Act 2010 it is an offence to sell or supply substances for human consumption if the substances are not specifically banned under the Misuse of Drugs Acts, but they have psychoactive effects. Anyone found guilty of such an offence is liable for a class A fine on summary conviction, or a term of imprisonment of up to 12 months, or both. On conviction on indictment they can be fined or imprisoned for a term not exceeding 5 years, or both.

Use of premises, vehicles or vessels for certain activities

It is an offence for anyone who occupies or controls any land, vehicle or vessel to use it to manufacture, import or supply a controlled drug. If they are found guilty of this offence they are liable on summary conviction to a class C fine, or a prison sentence of up to 12 months, or both. On conviction on indictment for this offence, the court can impose an appropriate fine, or a prison sentence of no more than 14 years, or both.

Forged or fraudulently altered prescriptions

It is an offence to forge a prescription or to try to change it in any way in order to deceive. Anyone found guilty of this offence is liable, on summary conviction, to a class D fine or a prison sentence not exceeding 6 months. If the court decides, you could be liable for both. On conviction on indictment for this offence, the court can decide on an appropriate fine, or impose a prison term not exceeding 14 years, or both.

Attempting or helping others to commit an offence

It is an offence to attempt to commit a drug offence covered by the legislation, or to help or incite someone else to commit the drug offence. If you are found guilty of this offence you are liable to be sentenced as if you had committed the drug offence.

Court-ordered drug treatment

For some drugs offences the court may decide that imposing the usual penalties is not the most effective response. These offences include:

  • Illegal possession of controlled drugs
  • Possession of controlled drugs for unlawful sale or supply
  • Breaking the regulations about opium, growing opium poppies or cannabis plants
  • Forging or fraudulently altering prescriptions

The court can remand you for whatever period it considers necessary (no longer than eight days if you are being held in custody). During this time, the court can ask the Health Service Executive (HSE), a probation officer or another qualified person to prepare a medical report and/or a report on your vocational, educational and social circumstances. They may also be asked to make recommendations for your treatment.

Based on the findings of these reports, the court may decide not to impose a fine or prison sentence on you. Instead, you may be placed under the supervision of a named person or body (such as the HSE) for a specified period of time or you may be required to get the kind of treatment (medical or otherwise) that has been recommended for you. The court may also order that you complete a course of education, instruction or training that will improve your job prospects or social circumstances, facilitate your social rehabilitation or reduce the likelihood of you committing further drugs offences.

Depending on the circumstances of your case, the court may order that you be detained in a specialised custodial treatment centre. The period you can be held for depends on your offence. You cannot be held for longer than a year. However, if the maximum period of imprisonment that the court can impose for your crime is shorter than a year, you can only be held for that period of time.

If the court decides it is in your best interests, you may not be allowed to see the contents of any report that has been prepared on your case. However, the report will be made available to your barrister or solicitor.

If you ignore an order of the court, you can be detained in a custodial treatment centre or have the usual penalties for your offence (fines and/or imprisonment) imposed on you.

How to report suspicious activity, drug smuggling and drug dealing

If you want to report drug smuggling or suspicious activity you should contact Customs, see ‘Where to apply’ below. Read more about how you can help tackle drug smuggling on Revenue’s website. Information about illegal drug activity should be reported to the Gardaí.

In Ireland the Misuse of Drugs Act 1977 as amended by other legislation is the principal legislation that covers drug offences and the respective penalties.