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UCC passes vote on drugs

Wednesday, 13th March, 2019 4:48pm

A vote to decriminalise drug possession is the first step towards a “harm reduction” approach to drug use, UCC student campaigners say.

A referendum to decriminalise drug possession for personal use for those over 18 was passed with over 70 per cent in favour during last week’s student elections in UCC.

The referendum result, announced on 7 March following three days at the polls, will now see the students’ union actively support the decriminalisation of the possession of drugs for personal consumption in Ireland for adults aged 18 years and over.

It follows a campaign by the Students for Sensible Drug Policy (SSDP), who met with SSDP societies from other colleges earlier this year to establish a national strategy to tackle drug use.

Speaking to the Cork Independent, David O’Brien, third year Social Science student and Chairperson of the SSDP, said decriminalisation was the first step towards a “harm reduction” approach to drug use.

“We are seeing more and more groups and organisations talking about decriminalisation, it’s going to become a hot topic with regards to drug policy in Ireland,” he said.

“We need to move to a health-led approach rather than a criminal approach. There is a difference between legalisation and decriminalisation. We are not looking to legalise any drugs, but those using drugs for personal consumption would be helped and offered support, not treated as a criminal.”

With the national students’ union, the USI, voting back in 2016 to support decriminalisation of drugs in Ireland, O’Brien says the UCC vote is simply the college catching up.

“There is a growing feeling that this is the start of a massive harm reduction approach to drug usage. Students may turn to drugs due to peer pressure, to cope with life itself, or for mental health issues – there are a host of reasons. Any move that would mitigate against the effects of drug use is something that should be done by any students’ union, so this is a step forward.”

David Lane, HSE Co-Ordinator of Drug and Alcohol Services, which is involved in the Cork Local Drugs and Alcohol Taskforce, agreed that a distinction need to be made between legalisation and decriminalisation.

He said the Portuguese model, which decriminalises drugs for personal use, was something to explore, but said Government investment would be needed to make it work. “People in Portugal can be seen very quickly. So there would need to be investment by the Government in health and treatment services within the health service so people could be seen quickly in order for decriminalisation to work in this country.”

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