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Updated: Feb 3, 2021

Pablo Escobar poses outside the White House with his son, 1981.

Drugs Possession Charges Ireland: Part 1.



DRUGS ARE BY their nature, potentially quite addictive. Equally addictive is the prosecution of these offences. There is no greater obsession within the ranks of An Garda Siochana than that associated with the prosecution of people for possession of drugs of various strains. Quantity is irrelevant; it is the mere possession of the substance that matters. Quantity is irrelevant for 2 reasons: the media and public at large are fascinated by drugs and illicit substances (which the Gardai are well aware of) and the Garda PULSE system records everything about a criminal matter, except the value of the substance seized. More about this later.

THE NARCOTICS MERRY-GO-ROUND When the substance seized is significant, that valuation is freely and generously given to the media. When -as is the majority of cases that come before the court- the value of the substance is seized is small (i.e. less than E5), this modest valuation is not recorded on the PULSE system. It’s not recorded for a very good reason: if you spend most of your days seizing joints from college students and the unemployed then it rather undercuts the view you’re cultivating of yourself as a dashing smasher of drugs gangs. As each summons generated costs the taxpayer E1,000 - a fact disclosed in open court once by a Judge- prosecuting spotty teenagers and occasional users for possession of modest quantities of drugs is a monstrous waste of taxpayers’ money.

So why do the Gardai continue to do it? Because Garda Management want them to do it. They want them to do it because drugs detections are generally newsworthy, and their detection can easily be leaked. There are sieve’s that are less leaky than Garda HQ and the constant drip-feed of “drugs busts” to favoured news outlets and prized journalists are designed to burnish the reputation and promotion opportunities of dozens of high-ranking staff. Promotions are the name of the game after all. The media are as hooked on news of illicit drugs as are the people who actually consume the drugs. The Gardai know this and they gleefully feed the media these juicy news stories and in return secure fawning news coverage for themselves. This merry-go-round goes on year in year out and somehow they can never seem to get on top of the drugs problem which grows year by year. Every year the taxpayer spends tens of millions more than they spent the previous year on drugs detections and the problem never seems to abate. “Fighting drugs”, as the novelist Gore Vidal once put it, “is nearly as big a business as pushing them”. As Garda Management want more and more drugs cases and as HQ plainly has no clue on how to successfully target and prosecute the serious drugs players in the country, attention turns to the low-hanging fruit, the people at the bottom of the pyramid, the students and unemployed and occasional users, who are corralled to make up the statistics which Management present to the public as impressive proof that they’re making a difference. No one is fooled. To satisfy Garda Management’s patent inability to put Drugs Units in place led by competent officers who will identify and prosecute those at the top of the drugs pyramid, the poor, indigent and harmless bottom-feeders of this chronic problem are targeted, just to boost “statistics”.

DOUBLETHINK AND BEYOND. AND THIS IS the crux of the matter: statistics, the substance of choice of Garda Management. They are so heavily addicted to statistics, data, numbers etc that this is now what they utilise to convince us that they’re doing their jobs properly. Your perceptions of growing criminality are wrong: crime is actually decreasing. It must be decreasing. We’ve got pages of statistics that show as much. Do you understand? George Orwell would nod approvingly.

The reason why so many people are prosecuted for tiny quantities of -mostly- cannabis is that drug detections and convictions, no matter how tiny the quantity, are one of the surest rungs upon which to start climbing the greasy promotion ladder. As a young Garda you very quickly learn what pleases the Boss and you adjust accordingly. Because PULSE doesn’t record the value of the substance retrieved -prosecuting someone for possession of E3 of cannabis weed is plainly absurd- a Guard can construct an impressive CV of multiple “detections” of bottom-feeders just to boost his promotion chances.

Your perceptions of growing criminality

are wrong: crime is actually decreasing.

It must be decreasing. We’ve got pages of

statistics that show as much. Do you understand?

George Orwell would nod approvingly.

I HAVE READ Garda statements containing the following passage: “I located a plastic bag containing what I believe to be a small quantity of cannabis herb”. More than one client has told me that what was “seized” amounted to little more than mere cannabis “grains”, practically dust, therefore virtually worthless. Yet they have been prosecuted precisely for possession of this insignificant substance and the taxpayer has been debited E1,000 for the privilege. The reason I say all this is because quite a few clients of mine have disclosed to me in recent years that they had been promised that if they admitted to something or other, e.g. possessing drugs in exchange for, say, information (not better described) they would not face prosecution. They later expressed dismay when they receive a summons for court for possession of drugs. The lesson is simple: if you are caught in possession of a small amount of drugs, it is virtually certain that you will be prosecuted for this, regardless of what the Guard says at the time or what impression he leaves you with. Drugs detections and convictions are a cottage industry all of their own. This is not to say that possession of drugs like heroin, cocaine, ketamine, crystal meth and other lethal substances should not be prosecuted. They should. Always. But clogging the court system up with prosecutions for ridiculously small amounts of cannabis herb in order to inflate crime statistics is a ludicrous waste of scarce public resources.


-Patrick Horan, 2020.

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