Should Ireland Legalise Marijuana?

You would struggle to find a person of college going age who has not at the very least been offered a joint at some point in their life. Young people have become accustomed to marijuana being part and parcel of their lives. The unmistakable smell filling your nose at a party or as you walk through your local park is something, I think it is fair to say, that just about everyone has experienced. This familiarity has paved the way for a far more liberal attitude to the drug.

A poll carried out in America at the beginning of October 2017 by Gallup shows that 64% of Americans support the legalisation of weed, and that includes, for the first time ever, a majority of 51% of Republican voters surveyed. While we must not rely on the results of American polls to decide our own opinions and dictate when we want our laws to change, the results of the poll show just how normalised weed has become since the days of it striking fear into the heart of the majority who saw it as a plague on society.

With the legalisation and decriminalisation of marijuana becoming more wide-spread from Uruguay to the famous coffee shops of Amsterdam, the question of legalisation in many Western countries is changing from if it will become legalised to when will it become legalised.

Ireland is in many ways falling behind on this issue as we have increasingly seen the government refuse to budge on their stance on cannabis, whether it be recreationally or medically, with Vera Twomey repeatedly having her requests ignored for the life-changing treatment her daughter Ava needs to be provided in her home country. It has been a full sixteen years since Portugal broke new ground in changing their drugs laws so that getting caught with a personal quantity of any drug was no longer a criminal offence, stopping young people needlessly obtaining a criminal record for the possession of weed. To me, and to many people young and old, this does not seem ground-breaking. Yet in the intervening years the government of Ireland, along with most other European countries, have made absolutely no attempt to emulate this course of action, which by all accounts has been a great success.

Portugal has some of lowest rates of marijuana use in the EU despite its relaxed laws surrounding drugs with just around 6% of people aged 18-34 saying they had used cannabis within the last 12 months. It is also one of the few countries where that rate of marijuana use is the same for 18-24 year olds as for 18-34 year olds, showing the reduced threat of a criminal record does not encourage younger people to use weed when they otherwise wouldn’t have.

Looking then to parts of the world where weed is completely legal and regulated, similarly to the alcohol market, the tax revenue being brought in as the sale of marijuana has been taken out of the black market is phenomenal. The state of Colorado in America, with a population of around 5.5 million people, has reported a tax intake from the sale of weed and weed products at over $5.5 billion since they legalise the substance in 2014.

The regulation of the weed market is, in spite of all this, far from a reality in Ireland. While I would argue it is something that should be taken into genuine consideration in the coming years, it is vital that the genuine concerns that people have with relation to the selling of weed over the counter in this country are addressed.

The current tactic of attempting to completely prevent the sale of consumption has been a resounding failure as people of all ages are still capable of getting their hands on weed without much difficulty. Prohibition as an attempt to control the use of cannabis has failed and it has failed miserably. It is surely time for a different approach.