Misuse of Drugs Bill, 1973: Fifth Stage.

Question proposed: "That the Bill do now pass."

Before we say farewell to this legislation there are a few comments I should like to make in regard to it. First, I wish to express the appreciation of this side of the House in regard to the attitude and the approach of the Minister to this Bill. It was satisfying and encouraging for us to know that the Minister, conscious of the importance of the measure and having regard to the delicacy of the matters with which it dealt, was prepared to take the Opposition fully into his confidence and consultation.

This was one Bill that benefited considerably from being put through the Special Committee procedure. One very serious disadvantage in this regard from the point of view of hardworking Deputies is the fact that these committees are ignored largely by the Press and the media generally. It is discouraging for many Deputies, particularly the younger ones, who put a great deal of work into these committees to find that they are ignored in this way. In the case of the legislation before us there was one honourable exception. I refer to the medical correspondent of The Irish Times who reported in a very mature and intelligent way the discussions of the Special Committee but so far as ordinary media reporting is concerned, the Committee might just as well not have been meeting. It is sad that all those commentators who express the desire to have Dáil procedures improved and who engage in criticism of our procedures, ignore us when we make a serious attempt to make use of the Special Committee procedure. However, on this occasion that procedure worked very well. This can be attributed largely to the quality of the people who sat on the Committee, most of whom took the work very seriously, participated fully and studied the situation with which we are trying to deal. They gave their views in a straightforward, responsible and mature way.

Another reason for the success of the Special Committee in this instance was the Minister's attitude. He was prepared to listen, to consider and, where possible, to meet the view of the Committee. Most of the amendments that have been dealt with on Report Stage resulted from the Minister's co-operation with the Committee. Mostly, they were brought forward by the Minister to meet viewpoints or criticism put forward by Committee members to meet dangers or problems which the members envisaged arising.

This is very important legislation. It has taken a long time to come to fruition. The situation with which it deals is complex and difficult. The misuse of drugs is a modern problem and one in respect of which we have not very much legislative experience. To a large extent we have been feeling our way, so to speak, in dealing with this Bill. I do not know whether I am right in this but my impression is that the problem of drug taking, particularly among young people, is on the wane. At least one is not as conscious now of the intensity of the problem as was the case, perhaps, five or six years ago. That is all to the good.

Throughout the legislation we have had to endeavour to maintain a balance, to strike a happy medium and to try to preserve the individual rights and personal freedom of individual citizens while at the same time giving the authorities the necessary powers to implement the legislation effectively. We have had to try, too, to bring in legislation that would render certain acts punishable but we have had to recognise that very often people committing these offences are not guilty of criminal activity in the normal sense but, perhaps, are people who require medical care and attention rather than punishment. Therefore, this has been a difficult legislative exercise. There were very significant disagreements among those of us who took an interest in the Bill but I think we can say that this Legislature has discharged its responsibility on this occasion in a wise and mature fashion. Although there were disagreements. Members were prepared to compromise and to arrive at a proposal which would have general acceptability. All the time we were confronted with this basic underlying problem of the medical people concerned disagreeing as to what should be done. They were not prepared to give us a unanimous opinion as to what line we should adopt in regard to this modern problem of the misuse of drugs. However, despite all those difficulties we had the full co-operation of the Minister and it is largely due to his attitude that we now have this legislation. At this stage all we can do is hope for the best and put forward the legislation, asking the authorities to implement it. We trust it will make an important and significant contribution to the welfare of our community in so far as this aspect of life is concerned.

While the Bill is basically a lawenforcement measure we would all wish that it would have the result of helping our young people to cope with the problems of modern living to the greatest extent possible.

I should also like to compliment the Minister for the manner in which he approached this legislation. We had many differences but, as Deputy Haughey has said, everybody was prepared to make a contribution and work for the benefit of all. I enjoyed working on the Committee and this I think was mainly due to the Minister's co-operation. I hope the legislation will be effective. It will need the co-operation of the Garda, the courts, the medical profession and the general public. Usually it is the young people who are affected by this drug culture. They are confronted with drugs in dance halls, streets, lounge bars and so on and we should make a special appeal to them that where they have information about persons peddling drugs or people being invited to certain places they should give this information to the Garda. They would be doing a great service. It would show their civic spirit and help to protect themselves and their children and the community in general.

Young people have a tremendous part to play in ensuring that this legislation will be effective. That is why I am speaking now because I know, through my involvement with young people that they have this information but, unfortunately, they must be prepared to co-operate with the Garda. We are indebted to the Garda for the work they are doing in this matter. On the other hand, I suppose we shall be discussing ways and means of helping people by prevention rather than cure and we hope that the Minister will keep in mind the importance of making available as soon as possible especially to the medical profession, places where people can be looked after rather than have them going into psychiatric institutions. This is of vital importance if we are to help drug addicts: the general hospitals must make available private beds and so on where these unfortunate people can be cared for.

It is only right that I should also pay special tribute to our spokesman on Health, Deputy Haughey. He was a great source of help to all of us on the Committee. He did tremendous research and although we differed at times over certain things, I as a member, have the greatest admiration for the tremendous efforts he made in contributing to this legislation.

I congratulate the Minister on the legislation now being passed here. It is no harm to reflect that it was first brought up, and is on the record of this House, in 1966. Deputy L'Estrange and Deputy Clinton in Opposition raised it also and the need for legislation of this kind. Ten years later the legislation is now in its final Stages. In 1971 Fine Gael introduced a Private Members' Bill which was refused. The Minister for Health introduced legislation but because of the 1973 general election it fell. After that election Deputy O'Malley of Fianna Fáil introduced a Private Members' Bill and, finally, the Minister for Health introduced this legislation.

I should like to be in a position to say that I am very pleased with all the contents of the Bill, entitled an Act, to prevent the misuse of certain dangerous or otherwise harmful drugs but, unfortunately, I am rather pessimistic as regards the efficacy of the measure in regard to the most insidious of all drugs, cannabis. It must be said, whether we like it or not, that Irish society which is uniform in its culture, its ethos and racial qualities, is one of the few societies in which one could expect the authorities to come to grips with the problem of drug taking since we are free from many of the defects that other societies have, due to their cosmopolitan make-up and the different cultures that are a hindrance to the detection, eradication and prevention of drug problems. These do not exist to any extent in our society and I am disappointed that we have not produced a less elaborate and I would consider possibly more efficient piece of legislation.

The first defect I see in this is the effective decriminalising to all intents and purposes of the use of marijuana and cannabis resin for one's own personal use. Perhaps the most disappointing part of the legislation is the absence of a definition of the quantity that a person may have in his possession. It is, perhaps, disappointing that there is an omission of a definition of cannabis whether this would be the leaf or the resin, each of which has a different concentration of the active constituent in the cannabis plant. Without those, I think we have been flippant in our approach, and that although we gave a great amount of time to this matter on Committee Stage, we have not grasped the nettle and I think that in time the Minister will possibly have to introduce some form of amendment to this effect. In effect, we have become the most liberal country in western Europe in regard to the personal consumption of marijuana and the Bill that we are passing effectively decriminalises marijuana for personal use. It decriminalises the growing of it and the preparation of it for personal use and it decriminalises the possession and consumption of it for personal use.

I am disappointed with the legislation because the kernel of the drug problem as we know it is the cannabis problem, the drug on which the youth start. Every heroin addict starts on cannabis: not every cannabis addict goes on to heroin but every heroin addict, whose history has been recorded, started on cannabis. I should like to refer to another omission about which I think Deputy Wyse was concerned and that is in regard to the reporting of people to the Garda Síochána. I suggested at certain stages of this legislation that it would not be impracticable where a person was being pressed by friends to take cannabis or other drugs, such a person should report the matter to the Garda Síochána and that they should be rewarded in some way when an amount of drugs was seized instead of people being frightened of these pushers to the extent they are frightened.

Another omission I attempted to bring up in the Special Committee was the provision of special courts to deal with this exact type of problem, such as they have in other countries. In the United States there is a special subcommittee sitting in Washington having a look at the overall picture of the cannabis problem. As Deputy Haughey said earlier, this committee reported that the medical experts disagree. Disagreement among the medical profession and chemists is sufficient warning that the drug cannabis is not harmless. If a drug is not harmless, it should not be decriminalised. It is one thing to prove a drug is harmful and it is another thing to prove it is harmless. We have had that problem in the medical profession for years. Something which is not harmless is not released. Something that is harmful is never released. At least 50 per cent of the medical reports have shown this drug to be harmful. None has shown it to be harmless. We should consider special courts for people who have entered into the drug-taking scheme.

The drug squad are to be commended for the great work they have done over the past decade against tremendous odds in relation to personnel and detection. The customs and excise people have also done their very best. At the Special Committee I suggested that we should have a review of this type of legislation and a monitoring of its efficacy. As Deputy Haughey said, it was an excellent committee. He deserves great credit for the catalytic way in which he helped the great work of the Minister who was extremely helpful to everyone. He did a wonderful job in getting the Bill expeditiously through the Committee. Yesterday and today with kindness and generousity he has ensured that the Bill will become law. There has been a vacuum. This is very similar to the legislation in the United Kingdom. The disappointing aspect is the decriminalisation and the liberalising of cannabis which will not make us popular in the EEC, will not make us popular with the drug squad, and certainly will not make us popular with parents.

Deputy Dr. Byrne continues to exclaim “Delenda est Carthago”. I should like to join with other speakers in paying tribute to the Minister on the way he has conducted the discussions on this Bill and also to his advisers who gave us so much help from the beginning. One must be impressed by the efforts of Deputy Haughey, who probably had not the same amount of advice available to him, for the time and detail he brought to bear on this legislation. Future offenders must be very grateful for the fact that two such humane men were dealing with this problem. One would like to think that in future, if the legislation has to be amended, two such humane men will be dealing with it.

I should like to thank Deputies who commented on the manner in which this Bill was dealt with at various stages. At the initial meetings of the Special Committee Deputy Haughey described it as ham-fisted and complicated. I took the Bill from my predecessor and the object, of course, was to try to make it as uncomplicated as possible, and to make it readable and operable. This type of legislation is not unlike other Bills which could be described as complicated with so many cross-references and so on, and so much legal jargon. During the course of Committee Stage, I thought one would nearly want to be a legal man and a medical man in order to understand the Bill in its entirety.

I do not say this by way of criticism but I believe there was a defect in the original Bill in that drug offenders were to be subject to punishment, detention, and so on. While we all abhor the use of these dangerous drugs, my personal view is that as a society we have a duty to help drug takers. This was a defect in the Bill, and one which we have corrected and which I trust will be accepted by the Seanad. We must have a certain amount of sympathy for young people who are hooked, possibly not through their own fault, but through a sense of bravado, or a sense of fear in certain company if they do not take cannabis or some such drug. Treatment is extremely important. As Deputy Dr. Gibbons and Deputy Wyse said, we must ensure that there will be accommodation for these people.

This legislation updates our control of drugs. My information is that the last Bill dealing with drugs was the Drugs Act, 1934. Certainly, the situation has changed very dramatically since 1934 so far as the consumption of illegal drugs is concerned. I agree with Deputies opposite and with Deputy Byrne who advocated that the Bill should be proceeded with as quickly as possible in order to have it on the Statute Book and in order that its various provisions can be implemented.

It also updates our control of drugs in accordance with international thinking on the subject. Some countries are much more advanced than we are in this regard, but our Bill will measure up to any legislation in any of the other European or American countries. I should like to thank the Special Committee. Deputy Byrne raised the question of cannabis. In view of all the discussion which ensued, and in view of the various expert reports we got, I think we came to the proper conclusion when we decided that there would be different penalties in respect of cannabis.

Deputy Byrne said the amendment was tantamount to decriminalising the use of cannabis but it is not. All of us know of the dangers of cannabis. We have an idea of the frequency with which it is smoked, without having any special examples. There was a view in the Special Committee that cannabis was harmful. I will not say that was the majority opinion but the majority opinion was that there should be some penalty not as severe for cannabis as for other controlled drugs. The Special Committee decided unanimously with regard to the first two offences in connection with the consumption or smoking of cannabis that they would be confined to fines. However, it was decided that on the third offence not only could there be a fine but there could be imprisonment as well at the discretion of the court. In addition to that there is provision in the Bill for remedial treatment.

Another important change in the original Bill was the amendment that abolished the various categories. Many opinions were expressed about how dangerous one drug might be or how less dangerous another might be. In all the circumstances I think it is best to have just one Schedule but, of course, to have different penalties for the various offences.

Another important change was in respect of the powers of the Garda Síochána and we discussed this matter this morning. In the Special Committee it was pointed out that at present the Garda Síochána have no powers to search for drugs. They have to use another Act in order to accost and to search persons whom they suspect of having drugs in their possession. The Garda Síochána will now have well defined powers. It was an absolute necessity to delete section 25 altogether because, as was pointed out this morning, it went much too far. With the new provision the Garda Síochána will use their discretion and their powers to ensure that this drug problem can be dealt with. It is a problem that is not peculiar to Ireland. I do not know the statistics regarding the use of these dangerous drugs but I assume from remarks made that in the bigger centres in Ireland a certain number of people use them. The Garda Síochána now have certain powers but, knowing them as I do, I believe they will use their discretion and will not invade any constitutional rights so far as individuals are concerned.

It may be a complicated Bill but I think it is now more acceptable to Members of the Oireachtas and, I trust, to the country. I should like to pay tribute to the members of the Special Committee who worked under the chairmanship of Deputy Barry Desmond. In that Committee we worked with open minds and, apart from a few instances, I did not recognise any political party set-up. The members of the Committee approached their job with open minds and, as a result, we got this Bill. One of the significant points about the manner in which we treated this Bill in the Special Committee was the fact that there was no vote whatever. We appeared to be far apart in respect of certain points but after talking it out we came together and decided what amendments might be made on Report Stage.

I think I have fulfilled all the promises. I made in the Special Committee with regard to amendments that were considered necessary. I should like to thank Deputy Haughey, the shadow Minister for Health who conducted most of the discussion on behalf of his party, for his co-operation. I wish to thank the Special Committee as a whole for their co-operation in what was a tricky job over a long period.

Question put and agreed to.