Monday, February 26, 2007
(Journo Assignment, Feb 26th 07 - interviewed randomers in Dublin City)
Gay Byrne's statement to Eamonn Dunphy last weekend has managed to open a controversial, although vital, discussion about the possibility of legalising certain drugs. The media is lapping it up, thrilled to report such a controversy.
The whole furore is reminiscent of Gaybo's younger, crazier days - constantly pushing for discussion of issues which people were reluctant to hear about. After all, "There was no sex in Ireland before the Late Late Show!"
The time has come for a proper debate and for the subject's taboo to be lifted. Gay's point that the current legislation against drugs has "demonstrably failed" is a reasonable one, but is legalisation really the way to go?
In a Vox Pop around Dublin's city streets, responses were varied. Some were vehemently against legalisation, answering with a definite and resounding "No!" Others were very much in favour of it, thinking it would do wonders for crime. A Mr. Mc Donnel (28) remarked that "You wouldn't have people going out robbing houses!" He also believed muggings and violent crimes would be hugely reduced.
According to Mr. Mc Donnel, Ireland would simply turn into another Holland , improving tourism for (perhaps) all the wrong reasons.
An elderly couple chorused sagely that "It won't stop, it'll never stop", adding that "drug barons will still reign" even if some or all drugs were made legal. According to them, it would reverse all the good efforts made to wean people off drugs (with Methadone Clinics etc)
"Look at Holland, it's pretty mellow, but in Ireland we're just not used to it" said Shamlan (18), a student of RCSI, who made the point that a responsible drug culture wouldn't be able to develop "all of a sudden". It is certainly possible that it would make the crime situation a lot worse, with people simply taking advantage of any new leniency.
Gay was not specific as to whether he felt some or all drugs should be legalised, but a surprising amount of people interviewed were in favour of Cannabis's legalisation, even those totally opposed to other drugs.
Recent statistics show that close to 50% of people between the ages of 12-17 have used Cannabis – and that's just those who admit it! The fact is that drugs are readily available in Ireland to anyone who wants them, and the Drugs Squad estimate that they only intercept around 10% of all drug imports.
Two Gardaí on patrol in St. Steven's Green said they'd be delighted if softer drugs were legalised. "It would get the junkies out of here anyway, because they could go home to do it!" I laughed an agreement, having often noticed huddles of suspiciously giddy teenagers hidden among the trees, shrouded in smoke.
Cannabis (aka Marijuana, Weed, Grass, Herb, Hash, Dope, Hemp, Pot…) is known to have medicinal uses. It can, for example, be used to ease a terminally ill patient's pain. Last January a British couple and one other person were arrested and given 9-month suspended sentences for selling cannabis-laced chocolate bars to multiple sclerosis sufferers.
They reportedly told police they made the "Canna-Biz" bars (containing around 3.5 grams of the substance) in their kitchen and mailed them out on request. They insisted the product was only available to MS sufferers who provided a medical note confirming their condition .
B. Shorthall (50), who admitted that he himself used to smoke Cannabis and subsequently dabbled in many other drugs, said this progression was simply a personal choice. He denounced the common belief that Cannabis is a "Gateway Drug".
He said he knows many people who have been "smokers" all their lives and have never seen the need to try any "harder" drugs. In fact, in his opinion, if soft drugs such as Cannabis were legal, it would mean that users would not have the contact with dealers they do now - lessening the temptation to experiment with "harder stuff" down the line.
"I don't think (Cannabis) is necessarily harmfull" he said. A common view seems to be that the fact "weed" is illegal, while alcohol flows freely, is an absurd double-standard. Alcohol makes a person behave violently, while smoking has a much more placating effect. Also, alcohol is just as damaging to a person's mental and physical health – if not more so.
Mr. Shotrhall insisted that Cannabis's legalisation would be greatly beneficial to making "smoking" safer, as it would bring about quality control. One of the greatest dangers to users of "grass" is that it can often be laced with PolyChlorinated Biphenyl (PCB), a highly dangerous chemical also known as "Angeldust".
When asked if he thought there was any truth in the supposed link between Cannabis usage and schizophrenia, he shook his head, saying, "of course it is mentally detrimental if a person were to smoke it every single day... it certainly dulls the brain... and can make a person lose perspective... but posession definitely shouldn't be a criminal offence."
"It should be taken the way someone would take a glass of wine with a meal" he said.
*class assignment - enjoyed this one*