If you're in a state that's legalized marijuana, you're lucky to have the choice of celebrating St. Patrick's Day with green buds instead of beer. The Irish aren't so lucky. Recreational as well as medical use of marijuana is still illegal in Ireland. But activist groups are busily working to change that.
To find out more, we reached out to Stephen Kavanagh - Deputy Executive Director of Norml Ireland - and asked him to tell us about the present and future of cannabis in the Republic of Ireland. Here's what he had to say.
Marijuana is not only illegal but taboo in Ireland
"Cannabis remains illegal in Ireland with up to 40% of drug convictions for personal possession of small amounts of cannabis," Kavanagh told Civilized. That's comparable to the stats from America, where 39.7 percent of drug-related arrests in 2014 were for personal possession.
But one main difference between the two countries is that it's difficult to get a conversation around legalization started in Ireland: "Cannabis is still very much a taboo issue with most of the public, but the destruction of lives due to prohibition policy is all too common and [is] changing opinions on how we treat drug users as a society."
Prohibition, he notes, has helped the black market thrive in Ireland: "The biggest harm of prohibition to Irish society comes from organized crime as people now see the profits from illegal drugs fund Ireland's gangland...[which] puts vulnerable dependents at the mercy of criminals whose only objective is profit by any means."
The Irish media shuns cannabis
And the taboo extends to the Irish media, Kavanagh says. Even when the conversation focuses on health and human rights instead of recreational use.
"I have contacted both of the biggest TV broadcast providers in Ireland requesting them to screen the WEED special reports by CNN on Irish TV to inform the public about the medical benefits of cannabis from a human rights perspective on epilepsy treatment especially. I have been ignored by all."
The one program that did make it on air was slated for the graveyard shift: "The only progressive documentary [Breaking the Taboo] was aired by [national public broadcaster] RTÉ on a Wednesday night at 11:30 which is the quietest time for Irish TV ratings. The media purge of cannabis information is still in full operation within the Irish media."
Progress is being made
Despite these obstacles, Kavanagh is confident that progress is not only possible but likely: "The main challenge to cannabis reform is media censorship and propaganda. But progress has been made on harm reduction drug policy since a government delegation went to Portugal [which has decriminalized all drugs] last year and saw the positive impact drug decriminalization has had there since 2001."
Cannabis Social Clubs could be coming to Ireland soon
The Irish government is working on similar plans to decriminalize the possession and personal use of drugs including marijuana, heroin and cocaine. And Kavanagh's group is working toward adding cannabis clubs to that legislation: "Norml Ireland is currently working on an amendment to this to allow for cannabis regulation and supply under the Cannabis Social Club model which is currently common across Europe where cannabis is decriminalized."
So you might be able to celebrate next St. Patrick's Day with some Emerald OG in Ireland.