It Is Time To Decriminalise Cannabis
A court case in which a judge did the right thing by avoiding a custodial sentence is a good starting point for marijuana reform. Let’s start by making medical cannabis legal now.
Niall Stokes, 21 Sep 2012
A glance through the crime pages of the national dailies can be deeply dispiriting. It is an arena in which the sheer grubbiness of so much of what goes on in society becomes horribly palpable. Murders, armed robberies, stabbings, rape, abuse of children – there is generally little or nothing that can be said in favour of those who are guilty of crimes involving violence.
Now and then something even grimmer in its way, or more poignant, emerges, where the accused has a history of psychiatric disturbance and you can imagine the terrible murk through which the individual and his or her family have struggled in the past to end up here, at the butt end of the criminal justice system, hoping for some kind of understanding and mercy to prevail.
The catalogue of misery doesn’t end there. Over the past year or two, there has been an apparently endless stream of court cases involving banks foreclosing on people who cannot repay monstrous levels of personal debt. The reports give an insight into just how horribly wrong things have gone since the property bubble burst, for what are generally ordinary, decent people trying to do their best but who have made decisions that will likely haunt them for the rest of their lives.
And then there are the less complicated cases – generally non-violent petty crimes that barely merit the time it takes to prosecute them – where the accused really does become a source of sympathy. There is a story of social deprivation and disadvantage behind virtually every one of these. The worst of it is when you see disproportionately draconian sentences being handed down by an irascible and often boorish judge for the likes of petty theft or dealing marijuana.
You cringe inside, knowing that it is a mistake, a useless and damaging piece of probably unconscious vindictiveness that compounds the felony, rather than offering a basis for learning, starting again and developing a different way of living …
Which is why it is so uplifting to see a court making a good decision in relation to a non-violent crime that might well have gone the other way. As it happens, the accused was a schoolboy – he’s 16 years of age now – who at the age of 14 was caught in his home in West Dublin, with €40,000 worth of cannabis in his school satchel. The amount was sufficient to merit a long custodial sentence. In the event, however, following a guilty plea and positive reports from the social services and probation officers involved, Judge Anne Ryan decided differently, sentencing the kid to nine months supervised probation. It was a victory for common sense, holding out the hope that the young man might now be allowed to mature into a fully functioning citizen, capable of giving something back to society, rather than going into prison, there to be further inculcated into the criminal ethos and way of life.