An Irish lawmaker last week introduced a bill to legalize the possession of small amounts of cannabis for personal use. The legislation was introduced on Thursday by Gino Kenny, a lawmaker known as a Teachta Dála (TD) and a member of Ireland’s People Before Profit political party. If passed, the bill would legalize the possession of up to seven grams of cannabis and 2.5 grams of cannabis resin for personal use.

Kenny’s bill would amend Ireland’s Misuse of Drugs Act, which has been in force since the 1970s, and apply to adults aged 18 and older. Kenny said that he expects further debate on the proposed legislation to occur next year.

“The Bill is quite moderate. It amends existing legislation that dates back 42 years,” Kenny said during a recent debate in the Dáil Éireann, the lower house of the Irish Parliament. “Forty-two years is a very long time. I believe the existing legislation is out of date and out of time. We need a different narrative around drug reform.”

“I hope the Government can support this legislation,” he continued. “It is timely. Different parts of the world are looking at different models which do not criminalize people and which take a harm-reduction approach. I look forward to the debate.”

Lawmaker Says Criminalization Doesn’t Work

In an op-ed explaining the legislation published on November 24, Kenny said that “the present laws on criminalization do not work” and noted that many countries in Europe and beyond have reformed their cannabis policy or are in the process of doing so. 

Although the text of the bill states that possession of up to seven grams of cannabis use by adults aged 18 and older “shall be lawful,” Kenny referred to the legislation as a decriminalization measure. The lawmaker said the legislation would amend Ireland’s unsuccessful policy of total cannabis prohibition.

“[E]ven though it is illegal in Ireland, we can see that the use of cannabis has increased. Ireland has one of the highest usage rates of cannabis in the EU,” Kenny wrote. “Almost 30% of adults between the age of 15-64 in Ireland have said that they have used cannabis at least one in their lifetime, whilst 17% of the adult population has used cannabis in the last 12 months – over double the European average of 7%.”

The lawmaker noted that under the proposal, the criminal penalties for low-level cannabis possession would be eliminated but the plant would remain illegal. Cultivation and sales of marijuana would continue to be prohibited, meaning the illicit market will continue to be the source of cannabis for most consumers.

Although Kenny’s bill will likely jumpstart the conversation surrounding cannabis reform in Ireland, whether or not it will succeed is another matter. In an interview with the Irish Independent, the head of the Irish government, Taoiseach Micheál Martin, warned against the prospect of the proposed legislation making cannabis more desirable.

“I think we have to be careful that we don’t glamorize cannabis either because there are real concerns within the health community and the medical community about what cannabis can do to young people,” he said, adding that he would support a more healthcare-based approach to addiction and warned about the potential harms posed by cannabis.

“I would prefer a system that decriminalizes in the sense that it were there to help people with challenges with harmful substances such as cannabis,” said Martin. “Cannabis can do real harm too, to young people, and many people in the medical world have said that to me. That’s just a concern I have. I’ve been a strong advocate for the facilitation of medical cannabis for people.”

Medical cannabis is legal in Ireland, although each patient must obtain authorization from the national health ministry. Kenny said that his proposal would end the prohibition of cannabis for all users, a position that is supported by his party.

“People Before Profit are totally opposed to the criminalization of cannabis users,” he wrote in his op-ed. “We believe that prohibition should come to an end, and that proper research should be undertaken by agencies that are independent of corporate influence into the benefits of regulation.”

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