Ireland is set to for a dramatic shift in drug policy, government ministers said, announcing plans to decriminalise consumption of heroin, cocaine and cannabis and to create clinically controlled "injection rooms" for addicts. The groundbreaking ambition was laid out by Dublin's drug strategy chief, Aodhán Ó Ríordáin, in a keynote speech at the London School of Economics.
"I am firmly of the view that there needs to be a cultural shift in how we regard substance misuse if we are to break this cycle and make a serious attempt to tackle drug and alcohol addiction," said Ó Ríordáin, according to The Irish Times.
The minister said he hoped the designated parliamentary committee would give the green light to proposals for decriminalisation drug use as soon as this week. However, it will take a few years for the new system to be fully implemented, he said.
The Irish Labour minister said the planned reform is to be shaped in a similar fashion to drug laws in currently in force in Portugal, where the use of all drugs was decriminalised in 2001. Drug dealing would remain illegal, while use would be considered a health issue rather than a crime.
He added he was confident the government would also agree on legislation to set up medically supervised injection centres, which he denied would be "a 'free for all for those who wish to inject drugs". He explained clinical monitoring and counselling could reduce risk of overdose and other potentially dangerous behaviours.
The move comes as legalisation movements have gained unprecedented momentum across the globe, after years of unfruitful war on drugs. In November, a leaked report signalled the UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) was about to change its long-standing stance on drugs calling for the decriminalisation of personal use.
Ríordáin's plan is also the second far-reaching progressive reform put forward in what has long been considered one of Europe's more socially conservative nations. In May, Ireland overwhelmingly voted in favour of gay unions in what local church leaders described as "a social revolution" in the country.