Millennial Musings: Can We Talk About Decriminalization?

By Sarah O’Brien

Last week, Irish Times journalist Seán Dunne wrote an impassioned, bombastic opinion piece delineating the dangers of decriminalizing small quantities of certain class A drugs, including Heroin and Cocaine. Amongst which, was the possibility that millennials may engage in recreational drug use and end up in a drug-induced festival catatonia. His commentary was peppered with disingenuous concern for his Starbucks-loving brethren, and professed a desire to see millennials living their “best life”.

Millennials, or Generation Y as we’re also known, is a catch-all categorization encompassing those born between 1981 and 1997. We’re the generation for whom Sabrina the Teenage Witch, Crash Bandicoot and the Fugees reigned supreme (In case there’s still any confusion, you’ll also recognize us as the cohort everyone makes soy latte and avocado toast quips about!)

The way Mr Dunne speaks about millennials, you would imagine ‘We’ were a homogenous group-a hive-mind if you will-who all thought and acted the same. His imaginings of wild voyeuristic sex parties could be taken straight out of an episode of Rick and Morty

**(S2 E3 ‘Auto Erotic Assimilation’ to be exact, where Rick and Unity, Rick’s ex-girlfriend but also a powerful collective conscious entity, use Kalaxian Crystals (aka drugs) to spice up their partie de débauche).

Mr Dunne also speaks to our apparent collective consensus that vomiting into the hands of our friendly neighbourhood Gardaí Siochana is not only acceptable, but is as a result of our being a generation that “knows no boundaries”. Though denizens of Starbucks we may be, I don’t think Mr Dunne is giving us all a fair shake. After all, stereotypes are only sometimes true…

The crux of Seán’s argument is that the “Government needs to realize we already consume drugs with dangerous abandon”, and he is correct, we do-particularly where alcohol is concerned. It’s Mr Dunne’s focus that is off base. Vulnerable drug addicts and marginalized persons, they are the ones who will be most affected by this change in legislation, not recreational drug users. It is the people already pushed to the fringes of society who will benefit from the new National Drug Strategy which will seek to treat possession as a health issue and not a criminal one.

The Irish Pharmacy Union, The Ana Liffey Project and the Peter McVerry Trust- a charity specifically set up to tackle homelessness and the harm caused by drug misuse and social disadvantage-have all welcomed the new change proposed by Taoiseach Leo Varadkar, Minister for Health, Simon Harris and Minister of State for Drugs, Catherine Byrne.

This whole argument about millennials using illicit drugs is somewhat of a non-sequitur. This article in the Economist, shows that millennial illicit drug-taking has been overtaken by a worrying trend toward prescription drug abuse. Perhaps that is where we should be focusing our attentions instead of worrying about what shenanigans 20-somethings i.e. fully-grown adults get up during festival season.

The age old ‘War on Drugs’ has not worked. All it has done is further marginalize vulnerable people. Drug use and addiction is a complex, multi-faceted phenomenon, one we do well to remember is greatly impacted by the intersections of poverty, racism, social isolation, and class.

The Portuguese model is working-let’s follow their lead. By decriminalizing possession of small quantities of narcotics, we are acknowledging that addicts are people not criminals, and would be far better served in a treatment facility than in a prison cell.




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