Are Ireland’s new drug policies radical?

East Hartford, CT. (TFC) – In 2011, there was a legislative mishap in Ireland that accidentally legalized drugs like ecstasy and mushrooms. They closed the loophole quickly. But now, failed drug policies are being faced by an Irish Labour Party politician, Minister of State for the National Drugs Strategy,  Aodhán Ó Ríordáin.

From 2013. Source: Secretive Ireland, Flickr, Creative Commons 'Hard Stop' conducted by the Armed Garda RSU Armed officers from the Irish Garda Regional Support Unit (RSU) stop a vehicle at gunpoint during an operation against organised crime gangs

From 2013.
Source: Secretive Ireland, Flickr, Creative Commons
‘Hard Stop’ conducted by the Armed Garda RSU
Armed officers from the Irish Garda Regional Support Unit (RSU) stop a vehicle at gunpoint during an operation against organised crime gangs

Ríordáin, who was recently part of the Marriage Equality “Yes” Campaign, spoke about what is being hailed as a ‘radical’ policy shift at the London School of Economics Monday, November 2nd. These policy shifts include decriminalization of small amounts of heroin, cocaine and cannabis for personal consumption, as well as ‘supervised injecting rooms’ for addicted heroine users. This does not include distribution or profit of illicit drugs.

Drug policy has been under international spotlight in recent years, especially here in the States where the link between selective drug policy enforcement and racism is apparent. But what isn’t reported on is the shifting global tide surrounding drug policy. A couple of weeks ago, Oct. 19, 2015, reported on leaked documents from the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime calling for decriminalization of use and possession of drugs:

The UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) appeared set to call on governments to end the criminalization of drug use and possession, according to DPA Honorary Board Member Richard Branson – but in a dramatic turn of events withdrew a briefing paper under pressure from at least one country [The US], according to the BBC.

Ireland is a small domino in a much larger chain of events. Latin American and European countries (see end) have been talking about and implementing decriminalization and legalization for some time now.

Like in Ireland, a lot of the conversation is about addiction and disease, except of course for white kids in Colorado. Then it’s just… a party? We need to set the story straight about drug policy. And while these social problems are heavy and demand immediate attention, we already know that addiction has more to do with environment than substance. So while it’s admirable to set up safe spaces for heroin addicts to use cleanly (sort of??), is this policy shift even radical?

There are reasons besides addiction to legalize drugs, which should go on a list somewhere of ‘things that are obvious’. People who are addicted to drugs are a small percentage of the population, and would arguably do far better with houses, meal plans, social services and ongoing health care. But the thing that worries me about this supposed “de-stigmatization” of drug use is that it’s, you guessed it, stigmatizing drugs.

Liberal politicians aren’t confronting the global drug policy head-on because decades of instilled rhetorical tics standing in the way. Even though clinical trials for ecstasy treating PTSD are going well, there’s too much dissonance that comes along with going from ecstasy will kill you to ecstasy could save your life. This is a cognitive bias known as anchoring. We form beliefs based on the first information we encounter about any given topic. For us in the States, anyways, we first hear about drugs in school where they only ever tell us that they’re bad.

These failed policies have been called a “drug war”, but it’d be more apt to frame this as an attempt to engineer social consciousness. For starters, we’ve also been told by the same institutions that it’s kosher for certain drugs to be prescribed by professionals. How they managed to spin these two stories together is way beyond my understanding of psychology. But further still, the engineering of consciousness comes from the criminalization of substances in general.

For example, research has found that Psilocybin, the chemical in mushrooms that causes the “tripping” experience, makes the brain become “hyperconnected” and “allows for increased communication between different regions”, reports IFL Science.

Or drugs (aka chemicals) we’ve never even heard of, like dipropyltryptamine. A chemical close in structure to DMT. Wikipedia explains that  “a user may … encounter the feeling of experiencing the life of someone else, or having had all possible experiences simultaneously.” Can you imagine what our social interactions would look like if we knew how to use these substances in similarly responsible ways as, say, drinking? Who would we be?

It’s interesting from a political perspective, because this is what the left tends to do: take a cause and try to package it using the weird rules of industrialism and social hierarchies. It’s easier to tell the story that poor, addicted folks need to be dependent on the state, and sequestered into communities to ensure public safety. But why are they addicts? For some reason, where the discussion on drug policy never goes is to the perpetrators of this destructive, global status quo, and the hierarchies enforced by it. The true problem isn’t being addressed, because the problem isn’t addiction. Addressing the real problems would be truly radical.

So really, it will be cool to see Ríordáin’s Misuse of Drugs Bill drafted and passed, it’s only a small step in changing the public perspective on how drugs can exist within our world medicinally, socially, and existentially.

There are many views to consider when analyzing the global structure that is selective drug enforcement. I’ll just leave you with one thing: stop believing what you are told and do some research.

Charles Rae is a theorist, journalist, and artist. Although new to TFC team, Rae writes frequently about law enforcement and power dynamics, as well as other social justice theories.