Pubdate: Tue, 29 Aug 2006
Source: Irish Times, The (Ireland)
Copyright: 2006 The Irish Times
Author: Kitty Holland
Bookmark: (Decrim/Legalization)
Bookmark: (Heroin)
Bookmark: (Methadone)
Bookmark: (Cannabis)
Bookmark: (Law Enforcement Against Prohibition)


The Government looked at legalising heroin in 2001, a former junior 
minister has claimed.

Eoin Ryan MEP told The Irish Times that he and Government officials 
visited Holland and Switzerland between 2001 and 2002 where heroin is 
dispensed to addicts for self-injection in designated clinics. Mr 
Ryan was minister of state with responsibility for the National Drugs 
Strategy from 2000 to 2002.

"We looked at it to see how the heroin issue was being dealt with in 
Europe but in the event we came to the conclusion that legalisation 
was a very drastic step." He said that those addicts who were being 
prescribed heroin ended up using it for the rest of their lives. "The 
medical advice was that it was more realistic to get people off methadone."

Mr Ryan, who was attending a conference hosted by Merchants Quay 
Ireland in Dublin yesterday, also said the legalisation of cannabis 
had been ruled out.

"If as a minister you want to legalise cannabis you are going to get 
endless amounts of medical evidence on your desk saying it is 
carcinogenic. What minister is going to get up and legalise a 
substance that is going to see the State being sued in years to come?"

Keynote speaker at the conference - Rethinking The War on Drugs - was 
Jerry Cameron, a former chief of police in the US. He said the law 
enforcement approach to the war on drugs had been "a disaster". As 
chief of police in Fernandina Beach, Florida, between 1980 and 1991, 
Mr Cameron was one of the most effective enforcers of federal 
anti-drugs policy in the US. He is now spokesman for Law Enforcers 
Against Prohibition (Leap) an organisation with 3,000 members across the US.

"The US prohibitionist war on drugs has been a disaster strategically 
if the goal is to lower the incidence of death, disease, crime and 
drug addiction." The war may have had noble motives but did a lot of 
damage, he said. If the purpose was to make things safer in 
communities drugs including heroin and cannabis should be legalised.

Since the early 1970s, when the "war on drugs" was unleashed under 
Richard Nixon, more than a trillion dollars had been spent on 
enforcing anti-drugs legislation and the prison population in the US 
had quadrupled to 2.2 million.

Use of drugs had not decreased but increased, he continued, as drugs 
had become cheaper and purer. Between 1991 and 2002 marijuana use in 
the US had "increased for all ages".

"School children report it is easier to buy illegal drugs than it is 
alcohol or cigarettes. That is one of the benefits of legal 
regulation - kids can't get it." Legalising drugs would, he argued, 
hugely reduce the profit levels and drugs crimes and have no impact 
on levels of addiction. "Crime around alcohol ended sharply at the 
end of Prohibition in 1933." Levels of drug addiction remained 
unchanged in the US since that time, when heroin was legal.

About 1.3 per cent of Americans were addicted to drugs in the 1930s 
and the figure was the same today.

"People don't make those kinds of personal decisions based on the 
law." Director of Merchants Quay Ireland Tony Geoghegan said the 
proposals put forward "may seem like a quantum leap" from current 
policy. "But the more we talk about it, the more we might nudge 
things in the right direction and things might slowly change."
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