Ireland Country Drug Report 2019

Drug laws and drug law offences

National drug laws

Possession of any controlled substance without due authorisation is an offence under the Misuse of Drugs Acts 1977-2017. The drugs controlled under the act are listed in schedules, together with some generic definitions of substance groups. The legislation distinguishes between simple possession (for personal use) and possession for sale or supply.

Penalties for simple possession depend on the type of drug (cannabis or other drugs) and on the penal proceedings, that is, whether a summary conviction (dealt with by a judge) or a conviction on indictment (tried before a judge and jury) is sought. Possession of cannabis or cannabis resin for personal use is punishable by a fine of up to EUR 1 000 or EUR 2 540, depending on whether it is a first or second conviction and on summary or indictment proceedings. However, third and subsequent offences are punishable by a fine and/or up to 1 year in prison for a summary conviction and a fine and/or up to 3 years’ imprisonment for conviction on indictment. Simple possession in any other case is punishable by up to 1 year in prison and/or a fine on summary conviction and up to 7 years’ imprisonment for conviction on indictment. However, the Criminal Justice (Community Service) Amendment Act 2011 requires courts to consider imposing a community service order instead of a prison sentence in all cases in which up to 12 months’ imprisonment might have been deemed appropriate. The Drug Treatment Court, based in Dublin, has been running since 2001 and was reviewed in 2010 and 2013.

With regard to drug trafficking, different penalties can be imposed depending on the prosecution proceedings, the circumstances of the offender and the market value of the drug involved. Possession for sale or supply can attract penalties of up to life imprisonment, with a presumptive mandatory minimum sentence of 10 years for the possession of drugs with a market value of at least EUR 13 000. In 2013, the Law Reform Commission, an independent statutory body established by the Law Reform Commission Act 1975, recommended repeal of this presumptive sentencing regime, but there has been no change to date.

In 2010, in response to the threat posed by new psychoactive substances (NPS), which were sold in so-called ‘head shops’, statutory instruments were introduced to subject more than 200 individual substances to control under the Misuse of Drugs Act 1977. In addition, the Criminal Justice (Psychoactive Substances) Act 2010 was passed to allow the prohibition of supply-related acts involving any harmful NPS, with maximum penalties of 5 years’ imprisonment.

In 2015, the Court of Appeal effectively annulled earlier declaration orders banning numerous substances over the last two decades, and the Misuse of Drugs (Amendment) Act 2015 was introduced as emergency legislation to control those substances. Further amendments were made in 2016.


Drug law offences

Drug law offence (DLO) data are the foundation for monitoring drug-related crime and are also a measure of law enforcement activity and drug market dynamics; they may be used to inform policies on the implementation of drug laws and to improve strategies.

Statistical data indicate that the number of DLOs incidents decreased in Ireland between 2008 and 2013 and has remained relatively stable since then. In 2017, the majority of DLO incidents were linked to use/possession.


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Methodological note: Analysis of trends is based only on those countries providing sufficient data to describe changes over the period specified. The reader should also be aware that monitoring patterns and trends in a hidden and stigmatised behaviour like drug use is both practically and methodologically challenging. For this reason, multiple sources of data are used for the purposes of analysis in this report. Caution is therefore required in interpretation, in particular when countries are compared on any single measure. Detailed information on methodology and caveats and comments on the limitations in the information set available can be found in the EMCDDA Statistical Bulletin.