Ireland’s Government Proposes Nine-Month Delay On Marijuana Legalization Bill Vote, Calling For Special Committee

The Irish government is proposing to delay a vote on advancing a bill to legalize marijuana possession by nine months, asserting that the issue requires consideration by a special committee.

Lawmakers are still set to debate the legislation from People Before Profit TD Gino Kenny on Wednesday, but the taoiseach, which is the country’s equivalent of prime minister, told lawmakers that the government feels more time is needed to contemplate Ireland’s reform model following the release of a citizen commission report last week that recommended broadly decriminalizing drugs and implementing harm reduction programs.

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar, who met with the chair of the Citizens’ Assembly on Drugs Use to discuss the report last week, addressed the Dáil Éireann (a chamber of the parliament) on Tuesday, arguing that “we shouldn’t just try to copy models in other countries” and that decriminalization should be coupled with other policies.

To that end, he said no single committee should have jurisdiction over the cannabis reform, as it should involve input from a multitude of panels focused on criminal justice, health and education, for example. While he spoke generally about drug decriminalization, the government moved to add a delay amendment to the cannabis-specific legislation that was set for a vote to move it to the committee stage on Wednesday.

“One of the things the special committee will have to tease out is what does decriminalization really mean in a legal context—under an Irish context?” Varadkar said. “Does that mean that’s not an offense at all? Doesn’t mean that it’s not an indictable offense? Does mean that it’s an offense without a penalty? Is there something like penalty points? Or does it actually mean that, up to a certain amount of each particular substance, that would not be illegal?”

He suggested that the government will move forward with establishing a special committee to weigh the marijuana bill next week.

Ryan McHale Crainn, executive committee member of the Irish drug policy reform organization Crainn, told Marijuana Moment that the “delay tactic from the Irish Government on cannabis decriminalisation is disappointing given the clear calls from the Citizens’ Assembly and overwhelming public support for the measure.”

“The government are aware of the overwhelming support which is why they didn’t outright oppose the bill like they did in 2013, which was the last attempt to liberalize cannabis laws,” he said. “While there appears to be a shift from government in terms of changing Ireland’s drug laws, they have not yet committed to any substantial legal change.”

“This delay will mean that hundreds of people will be criminalized for personal possession of cannabis while the Irish government ponder the political effectiveness of reform,” he added. “We cannot wait anymore and the Citizens’ Assembly have been clear in their calls for change to the harmful status quo.”

TD Paul Murphy said the government’s proposed delay is “simply an attempt to kick the can down the road.”

“They talk about a health led approach to drugs,” he said. “Now it’s time to walk the walk.”

The cannabis bill from Kenny was first introduced in 2022, and it’s currently in the second of ten legislative stages before it would be enacted. There was hope that the government would allow it advance to the third committee stage on Wednesday, but now the timeline is being significantly extended.

Varadkar told lawmakers last week that he agrees that prohibition doesn’t work, as evidenced by prohibition periods in Ireland that created illicit markets with “impure” alcohol products.

“In my view, drug use and misuse by individuals should be seen primarily as a public health issue and not a criminal justice matter,” the taoiseach said. “I certainly think that shaming people and blaming people and criminalizing people isn’t an effective policy.”

Meanwhile, the Citizens’ Assembly on Drugs Use considered marijuana legalization as part of its work last year, but a recommendation to enact the reform came up short by one vote.

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Image element courtesy of Ron Cogswell

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