Fr Peter McVerry, the social activist, has said he would be in favour of the legalisation of all drugs.
Fr McVerry made the comments to the Irish Times after an event hosted by Citywide, a national network of community activists and organisations involved in “responding to Ireland’s drugs crisis”.
Decriminalisation: A New Direction for Drugs Policy heard contributions from oncologist John Crown, Liam Herrick of the Irish Penal Reform, and Fr McVerry, calling for the decriminalisation of drugs.
Fr McVerry - who has worked with the homeless and drug users for most of his life - went further, and said he would like to see drugs “across the board” legalised.
The difference between legalisation and decriminalisation is that in the case of the latter a person found in possession of drugs for personal use would not be given a criminal conviction.
Legalisation however would mean the buying, importing and selling of drugs would be legal and regulated by the State.
“I favour the legalisation of all drugs across the board,” Fr McVerry said. “But I don’t like the word ‘legalisation’ because as soon as you say it most people think of alcohol and the damage it causes.
“They think that if you legalise currently illegal drugs, they will become as prevalent and destructive as alcohol. I prefer to use control the supply of. My model for that is methadone.
“Prior to the methadone treatment protocol coming in, there was a huge amount of it on the black market. People were going to ten or twenty doctors and getting a prescription for a litre of methadone and selling it on the streets.
“Then the methadone protocol came in which controlled the supply of methadone and now it’s much more difficult to get methadone on the streets than it is to get heroin. It would be my model - the State taking control of the supply of drugs.”
He added however that there would be certain restrictions on the sale and supply of drugs as well as negative consequences.
“It’s not that we’re going to go into Tesco and buy a bag of heroin or that it’s going to be widely advertised or available on the main street. You’d have to register as a drug user. There would be negative consequences to that.
“You wouldn’t be allowed a driving license for example. It would be hard to get a job. You wouldn’t get a visa. So, if you really want to use drugs, you’d have to register as a drug user and then you’d be supplied with the drugs by the State at a relatively low cost.”
He added that there would be a number of advantages stemming from such a change in the State’s drugs policy. “It would decimate - not destroy - but it would decimate the drug gangs.
“You would effectively take away the whole base of the criminal gangs that are involved in drugs. The illegal supply of drugs would be so small it wouldn’t be worth their while.
“Secondly, the quality of drugs is controlled. It would become very difficult for under-18s to get drugs and for most people their drug using starts under 18 because they are readily available on the streets.”