Fianna Fáil is opposed to this motion.

The legalisation of cannabis in Ireland will do little to curb criminality while simultaneously jeopardising the health of generations of Irish people. The appeal of taking a libertarian approach to this problem is a failure of our responsibility to protect society from the harmful effects of drug abuse and the inevitable violent criminality it brings with it. Deputy Flanagan’s misguided enthusiasm for this project down through the years belies the all too real dangers of cannabis.

As legislators we have a duty to pursue the common good. The damage that legislating cannabis would inflict upon innumerable people across the county is a breach of that duty. Our time here is better spent focusing on the draconian budget introduced only weeks ago that will severely impact upon the young and old in Irish society. This attempt to liberalise drug use is a deeply flawed view of what the common good is.

It is particularly ironic that in a time when we are ramping up efforts to cut down on smoking that we are now discussing adding a further dangerous substance to people’s lives. Efforts to introduce plain packaging and copperfasten the smoking ban introduced by Micheál Martin are the new frontline in snuffing out tobacco use in Ireland. The work and progress made in tackling tobacco usage and the detrimental impact they have on people’s health will pale in comparison to the challenges presented by wide scale cannabis use.

It begs the question that underpins the whole debate on this subject, why we would escalate a public health crisis by adding a new toxic substance into the mixture. Why would we risk undoing the good work achieved to date? Proponents of legislation have not put forward a reasonable answer to that question.

A number of other claims have been made by advocates in favour of the legalisation that I would like to confront.

Many of the arguments put forward by advocates of the bill point out the grave problems that alcohol abuse has inflicted upon Irish life. Undoubtedly our collective national drink problem costs the Irish tax payer hundreds of millions per annum in health and security costs. In contrast proponents of legalisation claim that cannabis has no such drawbacks.

However this is ultimately an argument in favour of prohibiting alcohol not legalising cannabis. Unconsciously advocating for the Volstead Act does not mean endorsing the legalisation of cannabis. This is not a Prohibition era discussion. Our efforts to tackle the on-going problems of endemic alcohol abuse in Ireland should not be diverted with a tangential attempt to legalise cannabis.

It is extremely difficult to remove organised crime groups from a business if they are already involved. Any move to regulate the cannabis trade or licence it would inevitably result in the creation of a shadow economy to undercut the legitimate trade. Evidence of this can clearly be seen all too clearly in the case of other substances such as tobacco, cigarettes and alcohol. The €300m industry estimate ignores the continual criminal role in the area.

These products are sold and licensed in Ireland but there is an equally vibrant black market trade in the above. Evidence has shown that consumers are not that concerned with quality but price.

The legitimate trade in cigarettes and tobacco in parts of Dublin has virtually collapsed because of the black market trade. Regulating the trade and use of cannabis would cause the illegal trade to flourish as it would create a benign environment for drug use to take place and probably strengthen the hand of organised crime gangs who would benefit from it.

It’s worth noting the problems the Dutch are facing with regard to the position they adopted in 1976 when they decriminalised possession of less than five grams in 1976. Amsterdam is now a centre of operations for most major organised crime outfits and a hub of hard drug distribution.

The areas where coffee shops which sell cannabis exists all suffer from late-night disturbances, traffic jams and hard drug-dealing because of cross-border visits from Belgium and Germany, where cannabis cannot be bought openly. The Dutch have attempted to repeal the laws but have backed down because they are too afraid that the country’s drug using population will cause further problems if they cannot source drugs from existing coffee shops.

It’s also worth noting that people licensed to produce cannabis for their own use would inevitably sell to friends and associates. Rather than prevent people from getting a criminal record, allowing people to produce a drug would inevitably encourage them to engage in petty dealing, therefore causing more problems for the justice system.

This bill, as proposed, is effectively unenforceable and would be impossible to police.

Much of the discussion on the health impact of cannabis strikes me as dangerously naïve. It ignores the variety of cannabis available and the dangerous impact it has on users.

The cannabis on sale in Ireland at the moment is primarily skunk grass, which is grown in secret grow houses under lights. In contrast during the 1980s, about 70% of cannabis consumed in Ireland and Britain was cannabis resin, or hashish, imported from North Africa. It was produced from the wild-growing cannabis sativa in Morocco.

This skunk is usually twice as potent as cannabis resin although both are synonymous with triggering schizophrenia and mental health issues in certain types of people.

Skunk is produced by crossing “Cannabis sativa x indica” to produce a hardy plant that can be cultivated indoors. Skunk is genetically modified to such an extent that it bears no resemblance to the cannabis that would have been smoked in the 1960s.

This bill makes no reference to what sort of cannabis plant would be permitted in Ireland. Indeed if it were to become law, criminals would simply undercut any legitimate trade to control the market by producing more potent plants.

Criminals who grow the drug in Ireland are already focused on increasing the strength of the “high” from the crop they produce. One way they do this is by selecting plants that are naturally more potent; another is to use lights to mimic the effect of autumn on the female plant. This causes it to produce more resin in a last-ditch attempt to pollinate itself before winter – and the resin is what makes it stronger.

The varying potency of the drug would inevitably create different markets with criminal enterprises moving into one area over the other. 

In short, cannabis is harmful. Ireland’s psychiatric hospitals are literally overwhelmed with young men who have developed psychiatric problems by using cannabis, or newer varieties of it. If one considers that all pharmaceutical drugs and foods undergo a rigorous testing regime to see if they cause any side effects, they one can see the difficulties with permitting cannabis to be sold.

In straitened economic times the idea of a viable commercial industry providing employment and making a contribution to the exchequer might seem appealing. However the reality of attempting to commercialise cannabis production and sales throws up insurmountable problems.

For the reasons stated above, any legitimate business which would enter into cannabis manufacture would of course have to secure insurance to operation.

Given that tobacco and cigarette companies are being sued for selling products which cause cancer, it is hard to imagine how any Limited Company could comply with any HR, Employment and Health legislation given the activities it would be involved in.

In terms of regulation, would persons who have criminal convictions be permitted to produce cannabis? The reality is that established dealers now with experience in the area are involved in overtly criminal enterprises. The vista of a Cannabis Regulation Authority will do nothing to curb criminal engagement.

In 2010 the then Fianna Fáil government took a strong stance in addressing the problem of psycho active substances been sold in so called “Head shops”. Criticism of the measure focused on the claims that banning head shops would do nothing to actually reduce the use of these dangerous substances but would in effect drive them underground.

In fact the end result of the decisive measures taken against these substances was to significantly curb their usage in particular amongst vulnerable adolescents. There is a lesson to be drawn from that experience in this debate. Eliminating Headshops and banning dangerous substances that tread the boundary of legality was a positive measure to protect the safety of young people. Legalising cannabis would be a perverse application of the lessons learned in that experience. If the sale of cannabis was to be permitted it would create a benign environment for illicit drug use to flourish.

This debate does bring an opportunity to re-appraise how we resource the Gardaí in tackling drug fuelled criminality and whether resources are better directed towards high level suppliers rather than low end users. Garda discretion is key in empowering the force to realistically tackle drug abuse in the country. There needs to be a debate around the use of adult caution and the impact our current system has upon the justice administration. It also behoves us to ask the questions as to why drug abuse flourishes in our society and what we can do to address it. This is an immense task of both supply and demand and any drugs strategy must address both aspects.

However the principle that cannabis should be legalised is simply indefeasible the health and social risks are far too great for us to countenance. This bill is a deeply flawed measure reflecting faulty assumptions. We need to stand up to allure of populist measures and do what is right for the greater good of the country