Much of the media coverage around the proposed Citizens Assembly on Drug Use in Ireland has held that the process will be difficult and possibly contentious.  Are the citizens of Ireland ready to really debate the merits of decriminalisation and legalisation of drug use?

The Citizens Assembly members will be brought together later this spring to represent the ordinary people of Ireland and to discuss and consider important legal and policy issues on drugs policy in Ireland.  They will be brought through all aspects of the policy issues by experts and make decisions based on deliberation and discussion.

Before any of that happens, we can use polling to get a measure for how the public feels prior to the Assembly being held.  The results suggest the tasks ahead may not be quite as difficult as many have suggested, with the public relatively supportive of possible changes in the law.

As we have seen in the past support for changes in legislation and legalisation are greatest for cases where those drugs can help people with medical issues.  In total a majority (70%) of the public suggest that currently illegal drugs should be made more available for therapeutic or medicinal use, and once those who don’t know are excluded this rises to 4 in 5 (83%).

It is also clear the public recognise the need for greater support for those suffering from drug addiction.   In fact, over two in three (69%) support more investment by government in services that reduce the health and social harms of problem drug use, such as supervised injection centres.

The more contentious issues revolve around legalisation and decriminalisation of drugs, and support for both is lower.  What is perhaps surprising is that support for legalisation of softer drugs such as cannabis, is slightly higher than for decriminalisation of drugs in general .

The legalisation and regulated sale of cannabis for recreational purposes has been building stream across many western countries in recent years.  Many states in the USA and Canada have the drug legalised for recreational use and countries closer to home such as Portugal are being watched closely as case study in decriminalisation.  In Ireland, just over half of all adults (54%) would support the legalisation and regulated sale of cannabis now.  When undecided voters are excluded this rises to almost two thirds (64%) of those expressing a preference.

As might be expected support for legalisation is higher among younger voters, however it remains over 60% among those expressing a preference right up to those aged 65.  Lifestage is a clear differentiator, with those in early life stages before having children  and those who never had children, showing greater support for legalisation of cannabis, while those with children show somewhat less support, particularly those with older children and retired who show the least support.   . Almost two-thirds of  Sinn Féin voters are also more likely to support legalisation, compared to  Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil voters where support is not a majority (46%)

Support for decriminalisation of drugs in general is lower than for legalisation of cannabis.  The issue of decriminalisation isn’t as clear to voters and can easily be misinterpreted.  As such, when asking about support for this we were very careful to explain what this meant.

Our explanation went as follows, “under decriminalisation, drugs and drug use remain illegal, but the consequences of being caught in possession of small amounts of drugs for personal use are not criminal.”  The other factor is that the question of decriminalisation included all types of drugs, where legislation was limited to cannabis.

The result was that that just half 50% of Irish adults support decriminalisation.   It is clear however that this is an issue where the public will need further education, as this question elicited the highest number of people who were undecided.  When the undecided voters are excluded support for decriminalisation did rise to almost 2 in 3 (63%).

Again support for decriminalisation is highest among younger age groups, but doesn’t fall off that much among older age groups, with those aged 55+ still in majority support (56%) when the undecided voters are excluded.

There is plenty of work for the Citizens Assembly to do, and during its process there is no doubt that we will all become better educated as a society in what the issues are and what decriminalisation and legalisation might really mean.

This poll however does suggest that the Irish public are certainly open to further discussion and deliberation on the issue of drug use in Ireland.

Click Here to Download Feb 23 Poll

Business Post RED C Opinion Poll Report – Feb 23