11 Mar 2015

Irish parliament rushes to make ecstasy illegal again

The Irish government rushes an emergency bill through parliament after a court decision strikes out a law prohibiting the possession of some drugs including ecstasy, ketamine and magic mushrooms.

Hand holding pills (Getty)

Dublin’s court of appeal struck down legislation banning more than 100 substances on Tuesday, forcing a late-night sitting of the Irish parliament, the Dail, to rush through emergency legislation to close the loophole.

Irish MEP Luke ‘Ming’ Flanagan, who tried unsucessfully to get cannabis legalised in Ireland in 2014, lamented the quality of the debate, telling Channel 4 News that this “could have been an opportunity to have a proper debate on drugs”.

We should tax and regulate cannabis, then people wouldn't go near headshops
Luke Flanagan MEP

The emergency measures are expected to be signed by the Irish president before the day is out, but will not become law until midnight on Wednesday.

Blanket ban

The appeal court case was brought by a man prosecuted in 2012 for the possession of methylethcathinone, also known as 4-mec or snow blow. 4-mec was one of around 100 substances subjected to a blanket ban by the Irish government four years ago, which forced so-called “headshops” out of business overnight.

The man denies criminal charges of supplying the substance and argued the ban was invalid because it was unconstitutional. On Tuesday the appeal court agreed, and the possession of all 100 substances in the same class as 4-mec immediately became legal.

However, other laws making the sale of these substances illegal remain in force, so a person could only exploit the temporary legality allowing them to take the drugs if they already possessed them.

Health Minister Leo Varadkar warned against taking advantage of the new situation in relation to the 100 substances, saying “They all have very significant health risks that outweigh any perceived recreational benefits”.

Mr Flanagan told Channel 4 News “I think we should tax and regulate cannabis, then people wouldn’t go near headshops.”

Legal challenge

With many drug-related convictions now open to challenge, the government is considering appealing the legal ruling in a higher court.

Ireland’s Department of Health had already prepared the emergency law following previous challenges to the law. In a statement it said: “The outcome of this case does not affect existing laws regarding the supply, possession or sale of older drugs such as heroin, cocaine or cannabis”.