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Ireland is a country that adopted a tough stance on marijuana. But, as more countries across the world prepare to legalise cannabis, it seems that the Irish are starting to change their minds. In June 2019, Ireland’s Minister of Health signed off on a program that will facilitate access to medical cannabis products for five years.
This is an important first piece of cannabis legislation, but will Ireland legalise cannabis for good? Read on to find out.
Current cannabis laws in Ireland
Cannabis is currently illegal in Ireland. The Irish Misuse of Drugs Act makes the distinction between possession for personal use and possessing it with the intent to supply. And the legal punishment reflects this distinction.
If an individual is caught with a small quantity of cannabis and is a first-time offender, he or she can receive a fine of €1,000 based on a summary conviction made by a District Court. If the same individual is caught again, he or she risks a €2,500 fine as a second-time offender. The court may impose prison sentences of up to 12 months for third and subsequent convictions.
Individuals who are caught with large quantities of cannabis in Ireland risk prison sentences of up to seven years or more, depending on their individual circumstances.
Growing your own marijuana is also illegal in Ireland, even though some Irish choose to ignore it. Individuals who break this law are punished differently, depending on how many plants they grow. Those who grow a single plant risk getting a fine, those who grow several risk sentences of up to 12 months of prison, while those who grow many risk spending up to 14 years in prison.
One particularity of the Irish drug laws is that they also prohibit selling or importing cannabis cultivation equipment. Individuals who knowingly sell equipment that can be used to cultivate weed by hydroponic means commit a criminal offence and risk a fine.
Selling marijuana is also illegal in Ireland, and the penalties imposed depend on circumstances like the offender’s criminal record and the quantity of cannabis involved. First-time offenders might get off with a €2,500 fine if the quantity is small, while repeat offenders might get a prison sentence of 10 years or more if they wanted to sell a large quantity of weed.
Medical marijuana in Ireland
Despite its harsh stance on marijuana, Ireland has a long history of allowing drug trials for cannabis extracts. Ireland first granted a licence to GW Pharmaceuticals to test the effects of nabiximols (Sativex) back in 2002.
The trial was considered a success, and in 2014 the Irish government amended the country’s cannabis regulations to allow nabiximols to be prescribed to patients. This amendment allowed doctors to prescribe cannabis to patients who suffered from multiple sclerosis or epilepsy, and to those who were going through chemotherapy treatments.
The first patient to use medical marijuana in Ireland was a two-year-old boy with Dravet syndrome who started his cannabis treatment in Colorado.
Then, in June 2019, Ireland’s Minister of Health approved a pilot program for medical cannabis. The Medical Cannabis Access Programme adds upon the 2014 legislation and expands the list of drugs patients can access. Doctors can now prescribe three cannabis-based products as a treatment, instead of just a single one.
While medical cannabis is still illegal in Ireland besides the three aforementioned approved products, this pilot program allows marijuana suppliers to apply for a licence to supply the Irish medical system with cannabis products, so the list might expand in the future.
Hemp and CBD are legal in Ireland
The Irish have been growing hemp for hundreds of years before it was banned at the start of the 20th century. Then, in 1995, the Irish government lifted the ban on hemp and allowed farmers to grow it on plantations.
Farmers who want to grow hemp have to apply for a licence from the Department of Health and Children. The licence is approved only if the plantation is located far from public roads and all the seeds used belong to cannabis strains that contain less than 0.2 percent tetrahydrocannabinol (THC).
Nowadays, Irish farmers are not particularly crazy about hemp, and only a handful grow it nowadays. But, given the fact that the cannabis industry proves to be profitable, more farmers might consider growing it in the near future.
Further, Irish laws do not prohibit the production, distribution and sale of cannabidiol (CBD). The authorities know that CBD does not produce psychoactive effects, so they allow the sale of CBD products, such as CBD oils or CBD topicals, that have THC concentrations lower than 0.2 percent. That being said, the laws around CBD in Ireland are quite convoluted.
The authorities in Ireland do, however, prohibit sellers to advertise hemp and CBD oils as medicine. Sellers can market the oils as food supplements, but they are not allowed to make any health claims regarding their products.
If the sellers claim that certain hemp products produce health benefits, they have the obligation to be authorised by the Health Products Regulatory Authority or risk a fine.
Marijuana in Irish politics
Cannabis is not a hot topic in Irish politics, but it’s still a topic that comes up from time to time, usually around major elections. In Ireland, 2020 was an election year, and the general elections were held on the 8th of February. Prior to the elections, Ireland’s political parties shared their views on cannabis legalisation.
A spokesperson for Fine Gael declared that the party has no plans to legalise recreational cannabis. However, the spokesperson also said that the party would move away from criminalising first-time offenders. This would allow first-time offenders to seek help and support from health or social services instead of gaining a criminal record that could destroy their lives.
A spokesperson for Fianna Fáil declared that the party believes Ireland should explore a model of criminalisation where proper treatment and healthcare services are prioritised over criminal justice for drug offenders accused of personal use.
The Labour Party declared that addiction is a health problem and it would not penalise minor possession of drugs, somewhat similar to what’s happening in Portugal.
The Green Party stated that they would decriminalise the possession of small quantities of marijuana in Ireland and would allow prescription of cannabis-based medicines through pharmacies.
Solidarity and their allies, People Before Profit, support the decriminalisation of all drugs for personal use, while the National party said that it strongly opposes the decriminalisation or legalisation of any drug.
Will Ireland legalise marijuana in the near future?
A recent study that interviewed 7,005 Irish citizens showed that 87.1 percent of the participants believed that it would be easy or very easy to obtain cannabis in a 24-hour period. So, cannabis is easy to get a hold of in Ireland, which means that the Irish government should regulate the trade to protect its citizens and tax it to increase its budget.
Moreover, 74.5 percent of the respondents agreed that people should be able to use cannabis for medical reasons, so the country’s current policy on medical marijuana could be improved. Since a large percentage of the population believes cannabis can and should be used for medicinal purposes, the government should consider legalising cannabis flower for this purpose.
But the study also showed that the majority of the participants (66.4 percent) believed that people shouldn’t use cannabis recreationally. Irish lawmakers should consult with more of their voters and with medical professionals before passing a law in this direction.
Now, most countries are taking steps towards cannabis legalisation because the experience of multiple North American states has proven that marijuana legalisation can be profitable for local budgets. The surplus income could help any county, including Ireland.
However, cannabis legalisation doesn’t seem to be a priority for the Irish government at the moment, so it won’t come soon. Ireland will probably not legalise marijuana for recreational use until the late 2020s or the 2030s.