New report calls for decriminalisation of drug possession in Ireland

A lot of things people think about drugs and drug use are simply not supported by what we know from research.
- Dr John Collins
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Criminalising people who possess drugs for personal use is counterproductive and ineffective according to a new report from the Ana Liffey Drug Project and the International Drug Policy Unit at the London School of Economics and Political Science (LSE).

The report, Not Criminals, calls for the decriminalisation of drug possession in Ireland and argues treating possession as a criminal offence both fails to discourage drug use and acts as a barrier to those seeking help and reintegration.

Criminalisation of simple possession is a serious issue in Ireland. It accounts for over 70% of drug crime and there were over 12,000 recorded incidents in 2017. Despite high levels of detection and prosecution, drug use in Ireland continues to rise.

The authors argue scarce resources would be better used dealing with personal drug use as a health issue rather than a crime.

Dr John Collins, Executive Director of the International Drug Policy Unit at LSE, said:

“It’s important to make sure that people have access to good quality evidence when considering important policy issues like this. A lot of things people think about drugs and drug use are simply not supported by what we know from research.

“For example, people often think that criminalising minor offences like possession ‘sends a clear message’ and discourages people from taking drugs. What this report highlights is that this is simply not the case – in an open society like Ireland, criminalising people who use drugs does not significantly affect rates of drug use. What it does do, however, is further stigmatise people, acting as a barrier to progress and change in their lives.”

Tony Duffin, CEO at the Ana Liffey Drug Project, noted:

“We need to be pragmatic. Decriminalisation is not a silver bullet - it does not solve everything – but it is a better policy choice than criminalising simple possession. It is not being soft on drugs – it’s about dealing with the reality that lots of people use drugs and that criminalising them doesn’t help.

“We can’t keep doing the same thing we’ve been doing for the past 40 years and expect to get a different outcome…we need our response to simple possession to be consistent with our National Drug Strategy in dealing with an individual’s drug use as a health issue.”

The report supports the findings of the Joint Oireachtas Committee of Justice, Defence and Equality which strongly recommends a civil response to drug possession over the criminal justice route.

It comes before a working group report considering alternative approaches to criminalising drug possession is submitted to the Irish government and is intended to assist the group in its deliberations.

For a copy of the report, Not Criminals, please visit:

Behind the article

The International Drug Policy Unit (IDPU) is a cross-regional and multidisciplinary project, designed to establish a global centre for excellence in the study of international drug policy.

 Ana Liffey:

Ana Liffey Drug Project is a national addiction service working to reduce the harm caused by drug use in Ireland. Ana Liffey provide direct services to people who use drugs, many of whom are among the most marginalised from mainstream service provision. To find out more about the Ana Liffey’s services visit