The Working Group to Consider Alternative Approaches to the Possession of Drugs for Personal Use

The Government established a Working Group to consider alternative approaches to the possession of drugs for personal use in December 2017. The formation of this group was a key action in the National Drugs Strategy ‘Reducing Harm, Supporting Recovery – a health-led response to drug and alcohol use in Ireland 2017-2025’.

The work programme of the group consisted of meetings with experts from other countries, commissioning research on other jurisdictions and undertaking a public consultation. The consultation process included an online questionnaire, focus groups and an open policy debate. The online questionnaire received a response of over 20,000 people.

The Working Group’s report was submitted to Ministers Harris, Flanagan and Byrne at the end of April 2019, along with a minority report from the Chairperson.

The report considered a range of approaches from depenalisation to decriminalisation and identified five policy options. Of these, the report recommends three policy options:

  • Adult Caution: The existing Adult Caution Scheme is a discretionary alternative to prosecution, whereby a person found in possession of drugs for personal use could be given a formal caution by An Garda Síochána, who could also provide the individual with a health and social services information leaflet.
  • Multiple Adult Cautions: Subject to the agreement of the DPP, a person could be given the benefit of an Adult Caution by An Garda Síochána more than once.
  • Diversion to Health Services: People found in possession of drugs for personal use would be diverted to the Health Service Executive for a health screening and brief intervention with a health professional known as SAOR (Support, Ask and Assess, Offer Assistance and Referral). Where necessary, high-risk drug users will be offered onward referral for treatment or other supports.

The report of the Working Group and the minority report can be accessed here:

Report of the Working Group

Minority Report of Chairperson

The Government has decided to implement a Health Diversion Approach, having considered  the recommendations in the reports.

Under this new system, when a person is found in possession of drugs for personal use the Government has agreed to implement a health diversion approach whereby:

  • On the first occasion, An Garda Síochána will refer them, on a mandatory basis, to the Health Service Executive for a health screening and brief intervention;
  • On the second occasion, An Garda Síochána would have discretion to issue an Adult Caution.