That leave be granted to introduce a Bill entitled an Act to provide for the regulation of cannabis for medicinal and recreational use and for that purpose to establish the Cannabis Regulation Authority; to provide for the licensing of the cultivation and sale of cannabis; to provide for offences; and to provide for related matters.
While I do not expect this House to support the Bill in the short term, I believe it will be seen in the longer term as progressive legislation. Just as many Deputies remained quiet when people stood up in this Chamber to speak in favour of legalising contraception and divorce, in the future this issue will be regarded in the same way. We will eventually arrive at a time when the proposals I am making in this Bill are accepted. Policy around the world is moving in this direction. While it is unfortunate that we are often the puppy that follows the master, we might start to think for ourselves. It is something that will happen. It is already happening around Europe, in the United States of America and in Central and South America.
More than 1 million people in this country have admitted to using cannabis. That figure includes two Ministers who have openly admitted to it. I would be shocked if there were not more in the Cabinet. Over 1 million people have decided the law should not be as it is. Approximately 150,000 people regularly flout the law. An estimated 100,000 people have received a criminal record for doing so. That is an estimate because when I asked the Department of Justice and Equality to furnish me with a figure for the number of people with a criminal record for possession of cannabis I was told it did not have the resources to find the answer and that it was not worth its while. From putting together the figures available to me, I arrived at my estimate that more than 100,000 people have criminal records for the possession of cannabis. If my Bill became law, these 100,000 people could once again be actively involved in areas from which they are currently debarred, such as education. Even if their economic activity increased by only €1,000 per person, that would be worth €100 million to the Irish economy.
There is potential for a tax dividend from legalising cannabis, as well as savings in the criminal justice system, which brings more than 8,000 people to court every year for cannabis-related offences. One of the major benefits of passing the Bill is that otherwise law-abiding citizens, many of whom are young males, would see no reason for conflict with the Garda and would be more open to co-operating with gardaí on other areas of crime.
Before the year is out I intend to get this issue debated. Two weeks ago I raised the issue in the Dáil and I was pleasantly surprised by the input from many Government Deputies. Over the coming year, I hope to work with NORML, an organisation established to drive this issue, to convince more Deputies that my Bill is the right way to go by inviting two doctors from that organisation, Dr. Cathal Ó Súilleabháin and Dr. Garrett McGovern, to discuss the issue with the Joint Committee on Health and Children. I also intend to ask doctors who oppose my proposal to debate the issue. I will propose that the committee write to Dr. Donald Tashkin of the University of California, who is the foremost expert on lung capacity after cannabis use, to ask him to present the facts. I will also ask the Joint Committee on Justice, Defence and Equality to invite the former head of the Cambridgeshire police force, Tom Lloyd, to explain the issue from a criminal justice perspective.
That is all I have to say on the issue now, but I will be returning to it regularly over the coming year.