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Roll up, roll up: capitalism will drive cannabis legalisation in Ireland

Legalisation is coming, no matter what Irish policymakers may say now

It is inevitable that cannabis will be legalised in Ireland in the coming years. It may take five years or even longer for the prohibition to be fully lifted but it is an utter fallacy to suggest this country will resist the inexorable trend that has taken hold in the United States, Canada, Spain and other western countries.

Legalisation is coming, no matter what Irish policymakers may say about the prospect now.

Doctors and campaigners and those who work in criminal justice will argue it out. But they are not the only ones driving the agenda. Once blue-chip international capital begins swirling around an issue – and this has already begun here – the die is basically cast.

That’s a grubby truism, but a truth nonetheless. Companies lobby, they fund major studies to sway opinion, they promise jobs and taxes.

Cannabis is already fully legal for all types of use in Canada. It is a burgeoning industry there funded by Wall Street investors such as Blackrock, Vanguard Group and Morgan Stanley. It is legal for, wink wink, medicinal use in about 33 US states, and recreational use in 11, including big hitters such as California and Illinois. The US is the biggest honey pot for cannabis capitalists.

Cannabis is the next-best thing to legal in Portugal; it’s legal in private in Spain, once you don’t annoy people in public; possession is decriminalised or consumption is effectively tolerated in private in countries such as Israel, the Netherlands, parts of Australia, Austria, and much of Latin America.

New Zealanders will vote on making it legal next year. So it is obvious where global opinion is moving.

Despite the health risks and the fallacious “gateway drug” debate, more solid civil liberties arguments are winning out in country after country. This trend will continue because there are few compelling arguments to reverse it. There are many good arguments for why people should not smoke cannabis or why they should consume it rarely. But they are weak arguments for maintaining legal prohibition in free societies.

Global legal weed sales last year were about $12.2 billion. Analysts at Jeffries say it will be $50 billion by 2029. One Bank of America analyst thinks it could reach $166 billion. The green economy is on its way, so Ireland may as well get ready.

The Government has given the green light to a limited medicinal cannabis programme, but this is a sideshow. Despite what pro-legalisation campaigners might suggest, there is little hard scientific evidence that cannabis is a miracle plant.

Anecdotal evidence suggests it can help some people who are ill. But let us be honest: cannabis is primarily a consumer product, like alcohol. That is how international capital sees it, so it is a fair bet to assume that most laws will eventually reflect this.

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While society waits for legislators to capitulate to this fundamental truth, the debate in Ireland will centre on medicinal cannabis for now. Old Bord na Móna bogs are being touted by some politicians as possible growth beds for medicinal cannabis, but this is unlikely.

High-grade medicinal cannabis has to be grown in properly-heated indoor factories with lights on timers, not in plastic polytunnels in Offaly.

A major push towards legalisation here may come from US and Canadian cannabis corporations who view Ireland as an obvious jump-off point into the European Union market. Multibillion-dollar behemoths such as Aurora Cannabis, worth $8 billion, and Tilray, worth $3.2 billion, have already declared their intentions to enter the Irish market. Tilray has even set up an Irish division, Tilray Ventures.

Some prominent players in the Irish health sector are involved in the cannabis industry, so the establishment mood music may already be changing. Ireland is a global pharma stronghold.

GW Pharmaceuticals is a top-five listed cannabis stock, a weed-as-medicine pure-play worth $4.7 billion. Tom Lynch, of Elan and Amarin fame, sits on its board. He is also chairman of the State’s Ireland East Hospitals Group, which oversees hospitals including the Mater and St Vincent’s in Dublin.

Eventually, however, big consumer companies will come knocking to Ireland, as they are to countries all over Europe. Province Brands, a Canadian cannabis drinks brewer, is planning to launch products here next year, albeit just with cannabidiol (CBD), which doesn’t make you high.

Cronos Group, worth $5.4 billion, one of the biggest recreational weed companies in the world, last year set up Cronos Group Celtic Holdings in Dublin. Cannabis remains illegal here. But Cronos didn’t make a move like that for the good of its health, or anyone else’s. It probably sees the future: full legalisation, eventually.

All of this money talk will be understandably galling for anti-legalisation campaigners, including medical professionals who warn of the mental health dangers and cannabis addiction. Consumption by young people can be especially dangerous. Yet, prohibition does not alleviate health risks. It criminalises them.

A major flaw in the argument of those who campaign to maintain the prohibition on health grounds is that they can habitually or flippantly fail to distinguish between egregious cannabis abuse and occasional cannabis use. Abuse and use are poles apart.

Most users of alcohol are not raging drunks who reach for a bottle of vodka upon wakening up. Most recreational cannabis users are not everyday-toking stoners with mental health issues. Various studies have put the prevalence of problematic cannabis consumption from about 15 per cent of users to as high as 25 per cent or even above.

That may be a cause for concern, but it is not an iron-clad argument to keep cannabis illegal. Problems exist on a spectrum from minor to major. The US National Institute on Drug Abuse estimates 9 per cent of cannabis users are dependent.

That is not out of line with the proportion for drinkers.

Alcohol laws are not framed solely to deal with alcoholics, because most of us just like the odd drink and the law recognises the right to indulge. There is a strong argument that cannabis laws in a free society should be similarly framed.

All the while, the debate will rage on as much of the world continues to move towards further relaxation of cannabis laws. Ireland will not be an outlier. The hard-nosed world of business will see to that.

FOOTNOTES

There is an ongoing boardroom row at the Hermitage Clinic private medical facility over the future of its long-serving chief executive, Eamonn Fitzgerald. But the world keeps on moving, and so do the members of the board.

Larry Goodman, a 31 per cent shareholder, has stepped down from the board. He has been replaced by former KPMG managing partner and one-time Telecom Éireann chairman Ron Bolger, who has close links to Goodman.

Goodman has an agreement to buy out the 31 per cent stake of fellow investor, Sean Mulryan. If and when that deal is consummated, he will gain majority control of the hospital. But at least he won’t have to attend pesky board meetings.

– There are legal issues ahead for investors in Finnstown Castle hotel in Dublin, which has for years been associated with members of the Mansfield family.

The hotel was bought by the late Jim Mansfield at the height of the Celtic Tiger boom, but he lost control of it in the crash and it was sold a few years later for a knockdown price to Louth businessman Kevin McGeough.

He brought the Mansfields in to run it, and the family regained control of the hotel in 2013 using a company, Finnstown House 2012 SPV. McGeough, however, recently registered a ‘lis pendens’, or notice of legal action, on the Land Registry file for the property, warning of future court action that may affect the company’s interest.

Roll up, roll up: capitalism will drive cannabis legalisation in Ireland Legalisation is coming, no matter what Irish policymakers may say now It is inevitable that cannabis will be legalised

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?