In Ireland, the cultivation, possession, and use of cannabis for recreational purposes is illegal. While the use of cannabis for medical purposes is allowed, it still requires the special approval of the Minister for Health.
History of marijuana in Ireland
Cannabis was first prohibited in the Irish Free State in 1937 pursuant to the Dangerous Drugs Act of 1934. This was after the revised International Opium Convention added Indian hemp to its list of controlled substances. In the late 1960s, however, the use of cannabis increased. The Irish government set up the Working Party on Drug Abuse in 1968, which recommended in 1971 that the legal and medical status of cannabis be kept under review. The party also recommended that those caught with small quantities of cannabis for personal use be not imprisoned.
The Misuse of Drugs Act 1977 replaced the 1934 Act and it recommended that marijuana be placed in a legal category that’s separate from other narcotics. Thus, cannabis was removed from all other scheduled drugs and acts under a three-strike law, wherein the third offense takes an offender into court and lands him or her in jail for a brief period.
Enforcement of cannabis laws
Under Irish law, the possession of cannabis for recreational use is a criminal offense. However, the Irish police, called the gardaí, practices a level of discretion when it comes to recreational marijuana users. In order for an offender to be convicted, the seized marijuana should be sent to the Garda Forensic Science Laboratory for analysis. This, together with the need to process an arrest, means that a gardaí can decide not to arrest individuals caught with small quantities of the substance. The cannabis will still be seized, though, and the offender’s name will also be taken.
For those possession cases that are brought to court, the three-strike law outlines these penalties:
- First offense – Offender gets summary conviction and must pay a fine of up to €381, or conviction on indictment and pay a fine of up to €635.
- Second offense – Offender gets summary conviction and must pay a fine of up to €508, or conviction on indictment and pay a fine of up to €1,269.
- Third or subsequent offense – Offender gets summary conviction and must pay a fine of up to €1,269, or, at the court’s discretion, imprisonment for not more than 12 months, or both fine and imprisonment. If not, the offender gets conviction of indictment and a fine of an amount to be determined by the court or imprisonment for not more than three years, or both imprisonment and fine.
Meanwhile, the trafficking of marijuana and the possession of marijuana with intent to sell are both serious offenses.
The law, however, does not have provisions on the sale or possession of cannabis seeds.
Under the 1998 regulations of the Misuse of Drugs Act 1977, cannabis, cannabinol, cannabis resin, and all cannabis derivatives are listed as schedule 1 drugs. This means that the manufacture, preparation, sale, production, supply, possession, and distribution of these substances are unlawful, whether it is for medical or recreational use, except under license from the Health Ministry. Licenses were issued in 2002 and 2003 to GW Pharmaceuticals to allow medical trials for nabiximol (Sativex), a cannabis extract, in a certain hospital and hospice facility.
In 2014, these 1998 regulations were amended and cannabis was taken out from the schedule 1 list in order to permit the prescription of nabiximols. In December 2016, the first license for medical cannabis oil was issued by the health minister to allow the treatment of a two-year-old boy suffering Dravet syndrome.
Earlier this year, the health minister, Simon Harris, expressed support for the government’s plan to legalize the use of cannabis in the treatment of specific medical conditions. Harris said he is in favor of the use of medical marijuana for treating patients that no longer respond to other treatments. He acknowledges that there is some evidence that the substance may be effective for this.
The government-commissioned report that prompted this new plan stated that cannabis could be given to those with a range of illnesses that include severe epilepsy and multiple sclerosis, as well as those undergoing chemotherapy.