A man who uses cannabis for epilepsy has told the Oireachtas Justice Committee he had to lie to his young daughter when he was imprisoned because she thought ‘prison was for the wrong people’.
Corkman Martin Condon is director of the Patients for Safe Access group and told the committee he had to buy cannabis on the black market.
He was one of several witnesses before the committee on Tuesday to discuss the current approach to penalties for possession of certain amounts of drugs for personal use.
He told the meeting:
“I have a number of criminal convictions for my continued cannabis use and as a result I was denied a travel visa to the United States where I would have had the opportunity to represent the Institute of Technology of Cork as part of the “Students for Sensible Drug” program Political Society.
“While I was there, I was scheduled to attend the 2016 United Nations General Assembly Special Session on Drugs in New York. I was robbed of this opportunity to learn and grow as a campaigning and networking with world leaders on this issue of drug use.”
He revealed he had been imprisoned in Cork Jail on one occasion, adding: “I had to lie about where I was to my then five-year-old daughter because at the time, she knew prison as a place where ‘bad people’ go.”
He highlighted a case in which a West Cork man who was self-medicating for chronic pain was prosecuted for possession of €4 worth of cannabis.
Professor Bobby Smyth, a child and adolescent psychiatrist specializing in addictions, spoke on behalf of the Cannabis Risk Network.
He said the network is “an informal group of doctors from a wide range of specialties who are concerned about the substantial increase in cannabis-related health harm evident in Ireland over the last 12 years”. He said that as physicians, the network strongly supports a health-focused approach to cannabis and broader drug policy.
However, he said: ‘We recognize that the criminal justice system often plays a role in achieving positive outcomes in areas of public health, including efforts to reduce death and injury from road traffic collisions. and more recently during the Covid-19 pandemic. In our view, criminal justice and health are not adversaries.
He continued: “We believe there is a real risk that a reduction in sanctions could lead to an escalation in consumption and associated health damage. The weight of evidence from national and international research indicates that sanctions have a small but significant effect. Please keep in mind that small effects on large populations are clinically important.
He said, however, that the Cannabis Risk Network considers the current prison sentence for personal drug use to be “excessive and unreasonable”.
Senator Lynn Ruane told the committee that “every society in the world seeks pleasure through drug use,” adding that profits are made in the criminal justice system due to the criminalization of drug possession.