Following what appears to be a major oversight, lawmakers in Ireland are scrambling to pass emergency legislation after a Tuesday morning court ruling resulted in the legalization of a number of drugs, including ecstasy, ketamine, and crystal meth in the country.
In the judgment, Ireland's Court of Appeal noted that additions had been made to the Misuse of Drugs Act 1977 on numerous occasions without the correct procedures being followed — a move that violates the Irish constitution.
The outcome of today's judgment is that possession of over 100 previously banned highs has now been made legal — albeit for a limited period. This ruling does not affect other drugs like cannabis, cocaine, or heroin — as those drugs fall under a different act.
Journalist Gavan Reilly reported that the court challenge was brought by a Lithuanian man who was initially arrested for possession of the head shop drug "cat." According to Irish news website the Journal, political party whips were warned last week that there may be a need for emergency legislation, but were also informed this information was "highly confidential."
Reacting to the news, the Irish government quickly made arrangements to pass "emergency legislation" on Tuesday evening. This is timetabled to go through the Dail — the country's lower house of parliament — between 8:30pm and 11:30pm local time. The Seanad — Ireland's version of the Senate — will meet on Wednesday morning to approve the new legislation, after which it must be signed into law by Irish President Michael D. Higgins. It is expected to come into effect at midnight on Thursday.
The Irish Department of Health said in a statement today that "there is always a degree of uncertainty about the outcome of court cases," and added that they had prepared emergency legislation in advance of Tuesday's ruling "in the event of a negative outcome for the State."
Irish constitutional law lecturer John O'Dowd told VICE News that it is hard to say exactly what the reasoning for the Court of Appeal decision was without seeing the judgment. However, he believes it is likely that the country's Supreme Court will grant leave to appeal, given the large number of pending prosecutions affected.
"It is less clear how they will decide the appeal," he told VICE News, "but I would be inclined to think they will deny it, based on the trend of cases in recent years."
O'Dowd added that he believes that the attorney general's office had conducted a review several years ago, which made it slightly surprising that the legislation had not been amended before this, "if only as a precaution."
Irish health minister Leo Varadkar said today that the supply, sale, import, and export of controlled drugs is still illegal, despite the court ruling — though it is unclear what he is basing this on.
Follow Sally Hayden on Twitter: @sallyhayd
Photo via Flickr