I move: "That the Bill be now read a Second Time."
In proposing this Second Reading, I believe that there is broad agreement in the House about the general objectives which the Bill is designed to meet. No one, I think, will dispute the need to provide effective, up-todate legislation to deal with the abuse of drugs in our society.
The previous Government introduced a Bill in 1972 which contained many of the provisions included in the present Bill. Deputy O'Malley reintroduced the same Bill towards the end of last year. I have been pleased to accept those provisions of the earlier Bills which I believe to be desirable, but having considered the matter, I felt it necessary to make some changes and some fundamental additions to the earlier versions.
Before I speak about the provisions of the Bill, I would like to make it clear to the House that I have not got a closed mind on the sections which I am putting forward today. This is a complex Bill, which attempts to deal in a balanced way with a very complex problem. A tough approach on the question of criminality and unethical behaviour has been adopted, while, at the same time, I have attempted to meet the treatment and rehabilitation needs of drug abusers in a humane and enlightened manner. I believe that this is the right approach. Those who traffic in drugs for a profit must be dealt with severely, while those who have a drug problem must be assisted and supported by society in their attempts to rehabilitate themselves.
I have, therefore, attempted to achieve the right balance between sanctions and care. Because of the difficulties involved in arriving at an appropriate balance, I do not presume that the Bill cannot be improved in debate in this House. I will consider carefully any suggestions which Deputies may wish to make to improve the Bill and will meet those which are desirable and practical.
The Bill contains a number of broad objectives. I should like to indicate these in turn, while reserving more detailed comment for Committee Stage.
The first general area of concern in the Bill is the specification of offences involving or assisting illicit traffic in drugs. In this connection, the Bill makes a clear distinction for the first time, between unlawful possession of controlled drugs for one's own use and unlawful possession for the purposes of illegal supply or pushing. For instance, section 3 makes it an offence to be in possession of a controlled drug unless such possession is rendered lawful by virtue of ministerial regulations. Section 15, on the other hand, makes it a specific offence to be in possession of a controlled drug for the purpose of unlawfully supplying the drug to another person. Other innovations under this general heading are the provisions relating to forged prescriptions and those prohibiting unlicensed cultivation of drug-producing plants.
Before leaving the question of trafficking offences, I should like to comment briefly on section 15. The previous Bills of the same title contained, in section 9, specific provision to make possession for the purpose of illegal supply an offence. This section of these Bills was criticised, however, since it was felt that it placed too heavy a burden on a defendant in the sense that, unless he could prove his innocence, there was an absolute presumption of guilt. I accept this criticism and, in order to meet the case made, I have inserted a provision in subsection (2) of section 15. This requires that, where a person is charged under the section, the court must be satisfied that, having regard to the quality of the controlled drug which the person possessed or other relevant circumstances, it is reasonable to assume that the drug was not for his own personal use. This approach, I believe, meets the criticisms made in this regard of the previous Bills.
The second broad objective is to control the supply and distribution of scheduled drugs having regard to the needs of medical practice and scientific research. Controls do exist at present, of course, but the Bill enables these to be streamlined and extended. For instance, as well as providing for the licensing of importation, exportation, production, and supply of scheduled drugs, the Bill will enable a more flexible system of control to be applied as compared with the present somewhat rigid structure.
In addition, sections 7 to 12 of the Bill contain provisions to deal with irresponsible prescribing of schedule drugs. These provisions are ancillary to the other control provisions and follow recommendations made in the report of the Working Party on Drug Abuse. While I have received no complaints of irresponsible prescribing since I took office, I understand that a small number of such cases did arise some years ago and, consequently, it is desirable to build safeguards for the future. As there is no adequate machinery for dealing with such cases under existing legislation, it is necessary to provide it in this Bill. I am in a position to inform the House that sections 7 to 12 have been worked out in consultation with the various professions involved and are agreed by them.
Thirdly, the Bill contains powers of enforcement. These are provided for in the main in sections 23 to 26. The powers of enforcement given to the Garda under the Bill have been strengthened as compared with the present position. The Garda had represented that under existing legislation, procedures for obtaining and executing search warrants were too cumbersome and inflexible to deal with the on-going situations.
Under section 26, such warrants may be obtained and executed by any member of the Garda Síochána, whereas only very senior officers can do so under present legislation. Additional powers are given under section 23 which enables persons or vehicles to be searched without a warrant and under section 25 which empowers a garda to arrest a person, without warrant, where he is of opinion that the person has committed an offence under the Bill.
Finally, there are provisions for penalties and the concomitant provision for treatment and rehabilitation. These are dealt with in sections 27 and 28 and, indeed, these two sections must be seen as providing a range of disposition options available to the court on conviction. It is important, therefore, to look at these sections together.
Section 27 is a necessarily long and tedious section and I would recommend Deputies to refer to the tabular summary contained in the explanatory memorandum. The reason for this elaborate specification of penalties is that, for the first time, a distinction is made between offences, depending on the type of drug involved. This distinction is reflected in the division of the Schedule into three parts.
I should like to emphasise that the categorisation provided for in the Schedule is concerned not with the potential physical danger to the user of the drugs in question, but rather to indicate a distinction for the purposes of the penal clauses of the Bill. In other words, the categorisation contained in the Schedule is not intended as a pharmacological classification, but as a classification for distinguishing the magnitude of offences. In this sense, the Schedule reflects social values, at least as much as it reflects pharmacological effects.
I make this point because there has been some criticism of the Schedule on the grounds that the classification contained in it does not reflect, in all cases, the likely physical effects of the drugs in question. It has been said, for example, that because cannabis appears to be relatively harmless in itself, it should be in a lower category than barbiturates, which can create dependence among other effects. While this may be true in pharmacological terms, it is not necessarily true in terms of the social effects of these drugs or in terms of the way in which society sees their effects. The Schedule to the Bill is designed to reflect the latter concepts, more than the physical effect of any particular drug.
This is possibly a matter for more detailed discussion on Committee Stage. Again, I am not totally committed to the Schedule in its present form, although I would need very sound arguments for altering it. In addition, I would point out that there is ample machinery in section 2 of the Bill for changing the classification of any particular drug in the future.
Section 28, which is an entirely new section, provides where a person is convicted under sections 3, 15, 16 or 18, that a report on the general medical and social background of the convicted person must be obtained, before disposition is decided. The requirement of a mandatory report of this kind reflects the fact that illegal drug possession or supply, while an offence, may also indicate a serious personal or social problem for the offender concerned. In short, drug possession cannot be seen in purely criminal terms in a humane society.
On receipt of the written report, the court may then decide on the appropriate method of disposition under sections 27 or 28. Section 27, which provides for fines or imprisonment or both, is designed in the main to provide either for the purely criminal offender, who does not himself have a notable drug problem, for example the pusher, or for an offender whose offences warrant a fine only, without further treatment or care being needed.
Section 28 provides a range of options to the court in the case of offenders where the written report indicates a drug problem requiring care, supervision and treatment. The options range from a general supervision order through to detention in a custodial treatment unit. This section also provides for the revocation of any order made.
The inclusion of section 28, I believe, creates a proper balance in the Bill as a whole. On the one hand the Bill provides for appropriate measures of control, enforcement and penalty. On the other, it recognises that drug abuse can be an appalling human problem for the individual concerned. While society must be resolute in dealing with the misuse of drugs, we must be humane in our approach to abusers. For these, the emphasis must be on care, treatment and rehabilitation.
To give effect to these general objectives, it is proposed to repeal the Dangerous Drugs Act, 1934, section 78 of the Health Act, 1970, and to make some technical amendments to the Pharmacy and Poisons Acts.
I would like to make a number of final comments. As I have said, the penal and restrictive clauses in the Bill are stringent and unequivocal. For this reason, it is important that there should be provision to protect the innocent by affording certain defences to persons wrongly accused, or otherwise caught unawares, while doing something which they thought to be perfectly legitimate. These defences are provided for in section 29 of the Bill. This section affords a certain degree of protection to a person charged with unlawful possession or supply who can show, either that he was not aware of the fact or, alternatively, that he was acting deliberately for the purpose of assisting the authorities in preventing another person from committing an offence.
There are two other provisions in section 29 on which I would like to make a special comment. The first of these provides a defence for a person charged under section 19 with knowingly permitting certain activities to take place on his premises, if he can show that he took all reasonable steps to prevent the occurrence or continuance of these activities. The second provision enables a defendant, who is charged under section 15 with the possession of a controlled drug for the purposes of unlawful sale or supply, to rebut the presumption of guilt provided for in that section by showing that at the time of the alleged offence he was a person lawfully entitled to be in possession of the particular drug by virtue of regulations made under section 4. An obvious example of the necessity for such a protective clause would be doctors, pharmacists, or other qualified persons who have drugs in their possession for professional purposes.
It would appear that there has been some misunderstanding regarding the position in this respect and I thought it well to clarify the matter which, no doubt, will be discussed in greater detail at later stages of the Bill.
Apart from its implications from the point of view of our own domestic law, the Bill is designed to enable this country formally to ratify the Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs, 1961, and, if necessary, the Convention on Psychotropic Substances, 1971. These conventions were adopted by the United Nations Organisation and they codify and supplement previous international conventions for the harmonisation of national laws for the prevention of illicit traffic in drugs liable to abuse. It has not been possible for this country to adhere to these conventions up to now, because our controls were technically unsuited to the control structure provided for in the conventions.
The amendment of the Poisons and Pharmacy Acts are provided for in sections 32 and 33 of the Bill. These amendments were found to be necessary in connection with the preparation of regulations under section 14 of the Poisons Act for controlling the sale of poisons. Work on the regulations is nearing completion and I am anxious that they should be made as soon as possible.
Experience in other countries has shown that, whilst laws of this kind do provide an effective deterrent, even the most stringent of such laws are not the answer to a drug problem and that further measures are needed in the socio-cultural, socio-economic and educational fields, coupled with up-to-date research and analysis of the factors which give rise to the problem in the first instance. However, this Bill is, fundamentally, an attempt to control the distribution of drugs of abuse at all stages, from production to consumption and, as the working party on drug abuse pointed out in its report, there is a direct correlation between the availability of drugs and the prevalence of abuse. Consequently, it is essential to have up-to-date comprehensive controls to ensure that the use of these drugs is confined to legitimate medical and scientific purposes and that they are not allowed to get into the wrong hands.
The drug scene in Ireland, so far as it is possible for my advisers to evaluate—and we are frankly somewhat handicapped in that no comprehensive survey has as yet been published—would seem to show that, in a quantitative sense, the problem, while growing, is a small one by international standards. The numbers charged with drug offences in 1972 were 201, 1973, 270 and the provisional figure for 1974 is 294.
Of these 294, 182 related to the drug cannabis the comparable figure for 1972 being 124. It is probable that much of the growth in this figure is attributable to once-only experimentation with cannabis. Nevertheless we must be prepared to deal with a possible growth in the problem and we must keep a watchful eye to see that there is not a significant addition to the hard core of around 100 or so opiate or polyabusers who have been with us for a number of years and the vast majority of whom rely for treatment on the facilities provided in the drug advisory and treatment centre at Jervis Street Hospital.
I am hopeful that the provisions of the Bill, together with the other measures which have been taken to combat drug abuse will enable the authorities concerned in this country to contain the problem and to ensure that it does not reach proportions experienced in some other countries. In addition I believe that section 28 will give additional authority to our social agencies in dealing, in a humane way, with the treatment needs of addicts and abusers.