Pubdate: Fri, 05 Nov 1999
Source: Irish Times (Ireland)
Copyright: 1999 The Irish Times
Contact:  Letters to Editor, The Irish Times, 11-15 D'Olier St, Dublin 2,
Fax: + 353 1 671 9407
Author: Emmet Oliver


The Labour Party has said a call by Mr Emmet Stagg TD for cannabis to
be decriminalised was "strictly a personal view" and it was not
planning to change its current policy.

A spokesman for the party's spokesman on justice, Mr Brendan Howlin,
said Mr Howlin did not share Mr Stagg's views. "We don't support any
change in the law," he said.

However, he said the party had opposed the Criminal Justice Act which
provides for mandatory 10-year sentences for possession of drugs,
including cannabis, worth pounds 10,000 or more.

"We don't necessarily agree with cannabis always being classified with
heroin or other drugs, but we do not want it decriminalised," he said.

Yesterday few TDs or Senators expressed support for Mr Stagg's call,
although the Green Party and one member of the Labour Party called for
a commission to look at the issue.

The Fine Gael spokesman on Justice, Mr Jim Higgins, said he was
"totally against" a change in the law relating to cannabis. "I
continue to believe it is a gateway drug and nothing I have heard
changes my opinion," he said.

Ms Nora Owen, former Fine Gael minister for justice, said there was no
evidence decriminalisation would reduce usage and that had to be aim
of drug policy.

Mr Jim Mitchell TD said there was "not a drug addict anywhere in
Dublin who did not start on soft drugs" and this was the main reason
the current position should continue.

However, Senator Joe Costello of the Labour Party said a commission to
examine the issue of decriminalisation should be established. He said
"up-to-date" medical views needed to be gathered on the drug.
"Cannabis is not on a par with heroin or cocaine, yet we treat them
the same way, particularly since the Criminal Justice Act this year
came in," he said.

Socialist Party TD Mr Joe Higgins said an informed debate was needed
on the issue. "A lot of young people when they go to the margins for
cannabis meet other people, or the same people, who want to peddle
heroin to them and we have to consider that". Asked if he favoured
legalisation, he said a "broad-based debate" was needed first.

Green Party TD Mr John Gormley said he favoured a commission to look
at the "pros and cons" of decriminalising the drug. He said a
"terrible double standard" was currently operating where cannabis
possession was an offence, but the Gardai rarely took action against
personal users. "It has become a bit of an Irish solution to an Irish
problem," he said.

Mr Sean Ardagh, Fianna Fail TD, said the arguments in favour of the
current position continued to outweigh those in favour of
decriminalisation or legalisation.
- ---
MAP posted-by: Derek Rea