Cannabis caution scheme contributes to decline in people charged for possession

The number of people being brought to court for cannabis possession fell by nearly 50 per cent.
Cannabis caution scheme contributes to decline in people charged for possession

The number of people charged or issued with a summons in relation to the possession of drugs fell significantly in 2021.

As reported in The Irish Times, the drop in people being brought to court comes after the introduction of a new scheme which allows cannabis possession to be dealt with by way of a caution.

The number of people being brought to court for cannabis possession fell by nearly 50 per cent.

New figures released Gardaí detail that, up to December 14th, 5,957 people were issued with a summons or charged in relation to the possession of drugs for their own use. This is a significant reduction compared to the 11,127 in 2020, and 9,923 in 2019.

The expansion of the Adult Cautioning Scheme at the end of 2020, which relates to simple possession of an illegal drug, has contributed to the sharp decline.

The cautioning scheme, which is run by the Gardaí and the Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions, was expanded to include possession of cannabis for personal use. Trespass, casual trading without a licence, and laws to do with access to certain events were also added to the scheme.

The decline in people being brought to court for possession of cannabis comes as several European countries are considering changing laws which cover the drug.

In December, Malta became the first EU member state to legalise the possession of cannabis, or its cultivation, for personal use.

Other countries including Germany, Luxembourg and Switzerland are also looking at accommodating possession of the drug for personal use. Meanwhile, Italy is set to hold a referendum on the issue.

Concerns

According to the College of Psychiatrists in Ireland, the increasing potency of cannabis and beliefs that the drug is harmless is having “devastating effects” and is the “gravest threat” to the mental health of young people in Ireland.

Last year, the college expressed concern over the possibility of psychiatric services becoming overrun with people needing treatment for mental health issues related to the drug, with an estimated 45,000 people aged between 15-34 meeting the criteria for cannabis dependence.

“As many as one in three young people who use cannabis weekly or more often will likely become addicted,” Dr Gerry McCarney, a consultant child and adolescent addiction psychiatrist said.

“When you consider how potent the drug has become in recent years, it is obvious we are facing a perfect storm which has the potential to overrun our psychiatric services.”

As European countries move towards more relaxed policies towards cannabis use and possession, changes to Irish law remains to be seen, with a citizens' assembly on drug use expected some time this year.

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