UCC’s Students’ Union may be adopting an official stance of support for the decriminalisation of drugs for personal use in Ireland following an upcoming University-wide referendum. The Referendum, campaigned for and achieved by UCC’s Students for Sensible Drug Policy organisation, will ask students whether UCCSU should “actively support and campaign for the decriminalisation of the possession of drugs for personal consumption for adults aged 18 and over in Ireland”. Should it pass, the Referendum will mandate UCC’s Students’ Union to adopt an official policy of support and activism for the decriminalisation of drugs for personal consumption in Ireland for adults aged 18 and over.
Chairperson of UCC’s Students for Sensible Drug Policy, David O’Brien, is adamant that students fully understand the distinction that lies between the terms ‘decriminalisation’ and ‘legalisation’: “Decriminalisation is simply the removal of criminal status from a certain action or behaviour. Decriminalising drugs for personal consumption in Ireland won’t necessarily ‘relax’ the laws already in place with regards to drugs, and drugs will still be illegal if decriminalised”.
David explains that the purpose of decriminalisation is to shift the focus from punitive measures to a more health-led response, relocating Government spending in the process: “Issues arising from drugs will instead be dealt with civilly through fines or referring people to health services. Decriminalisation would allow the state to relocate capital expenditure saved on law enforcement and the judicial process to be invested into health services for drug users instead. It would also lead to better use of Garda and court resourses, as a lot of time is wasted on suspending sentences of people who are there on a petty charge of drug possession for personal consumption”.
The fight for decriminalisation in Ireland is long-running and widespread. David cites “the USI, CityWide, Ana Liffey Drug Project, Help Not Harm and the network of Students for Sensible Drug Policy” as examples of organisations who “support the motion in question”. Politically, David mentions “the Green Party, Solidarity, and People Before Profit” as parties who “all support drug decriminalisation for personal consumption”. David, along with the SSDP, is determined for the students of UCC to join them. “As the issue of drug decriminalisation becomes a hot-topic in Ireland, it would be better to have the Students’ Union of UCC in-line with it than against it”.
For Students, the campaign towards decriminalisation is a deeply prevalent issue, as David highlights: “[Decriminalisation] should be an issue for any Students’ Union in Ireland. As we know, many people who are experiencing mental health issues often turn to substances in order to overcome their own personal problems. Mental health is a very important issue among students, and any move by a Students’ Union to help students that need it most, should be made”. David also argues that the benefits of decriminalisation for Students go beyond those of personal wellbeing, and that the current punitive system is failing Students. “Students are known to experiment with drugs during their time in college. If a student is caught in possession of drugs that are intended to be used for personal consumption, their lives can be dramatically changed. It is often noted that students seeking to go on a J1 can’t acquire a visa if they have a conviction. By decriminalising drug use for personal consumption and having our Students’ Union support and campaign for this, we can improve the future for students”.
David cites the Portuguese model of decriminalisation, and its dramatic success, as being a shining example of what can be achieved through the decriminalisation of drugs for personal use. “At the time the law was changed, Portugal had one of the highest rates of HIV in the European Union, stemming primarily from those injecting drugs, by using dirty needles or sharing needles with other drug users”. The number of “HIV diagnoses attributed to the injecting of drugs” fell from “close to 500” down to “44”, David explains, citing the European Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drug Addiction.
Since 2015, the Union of Students in Ireland have been officially supporting and campaigning for decriminalisation in Ireland. In a submission to the Oireachtas, they stated that the USI is “calling for the decriminalisation of drugs and for investment into treatment and health facilities, along with education about drug use and risk for young adults and those of school age”. David states that members of the UCC SSDP who attended the 2019 SSDP Irish National Conference, met with representatives from the USI, who “supported the referendum motions being pushed by SSDPs in Ireland in relation to getting their Student Unions to adopt a stance on drug decriminalisation”
A referendum on the same issue is due to be held in Dublin City University in the near future, with an official date yet to be confirmed. The referendum is a result of similar campaigning on the part of DCU’s SSDP organisation. David believes that having two Universities vote in favour of decriminalisation within the same year would be “a clear sign that students in Ireland believe we need to change our legislative attitudes towards drug use”.
Voting for the referendum will take place on March 4th, 5th, and 6th, 2019. All relevant voter information can be found here.