The primary legislation under which criminal charges for drugs offences is brought is the Misuse of Drugs Act 1977 and the Misuse of Drugs Act, 1984. These have been further amended by the Criminal Justice Act 1999, the Criminal Justice Act 2006 and the Criminal Justice Act 2007. The Misuse of Drugs Regulations 1988 (SI 328 of 1988) (as amended) lists the various substances to which the legislation applies. The Criminal Justice (Psychoactive Substances) Act 2010 covers substances which are not specifically proscribed under the Misuse of Drugs Acts, but which have psychoactive effects.
The main drug offences under which criminal charges are brought are offences of drug possession and possession for the purpose of supply.
The work of the Criminal Assets Bureau , established in 1996, has been very successful in seizing the assets of those convicted of drug trafficking. The Garda Siochana has also established the National Drugs Unit to target national and international drugs trafficking. At local level, Local Drugs Units police the drugs situation and Garda juvenile liaison officers work with young people to try and prevent them getting involved with drugs. In some Local Drugs Task Force areas, Community Policing Fora have been set up to deal with the drug problem with the help of the community. In October 2008 Dial to Stop Drug Dealing was launched. This initiative tackled drug dealing in local communities by providing a confidential and completely anonymous way for someone to pass on information on drug dealing in their local community to the Gardaí.
The Gardai are also involved in a number of awareness-raising programmes such as the Garda Schools Programme, the Garda Mobile Anti-Drugs Unit and the Juvenile Diversion Programme.
The Customs and Excise services are responsible for detecting and seizing controlled drugs at importation. There is close co-operation between the Gardai and the Custom and Excise services in the area of drug law enforcement and a joint task force involving the Gardai, the Customs and Excise Services and the Naval Services has been set up. These bodies liaise at a local level to prevent drug trafficking. The Customs and Excise services are involved in the Multi-Disciplinary Group on Organised Crime and are also very involved in the operation of the Criminal Assets Bureau with the Gardai. The Customs National Drug Team was set up by the Revenue Commissioners in 1992 to tackle the illegal importation of drugs into Ireland.
The Customs National Drug Team (CNDT) concentrates solely on combating the importation of illegal drugs into Ireland. The CNDT has its Head Office located in Dublin and intelligence units, operational units, maritime units and drug detector dog units that are strategically placed at all major ports and airports and at various coastal locations nation-wide. All CNDT units are mobile and can be deployed to other locations as necessary. The CNDT is supported by outfield officials who are also responsible for the detection and prevention of drug smuggling as part of their normal duties.
Under the Misuse of Drugs Acts anyone found in possession of cannabis or cannabis resin is guilty of an offence. If the court decides that the drug was for personal use and not for sale or distribution and this was a first offence, it can impose a class D fine on summary conviction in a District Court. On conviction on indictment, the defendant can be fined €1,270. For a second offence, a class D fine may be imposed and on conviction on indictment, a fine of €2,540 can be imposed. For a third or subsequent conviction, a class C fine can be imposed. If the court decides, a prison sentence of not more than 12 months can be imposed as well. On conviction on indictment, the court may decide on an appropriate fine and/or a prison sentence of up to three years can be imposed.
It is an offence to be in possession of a controlled drug and on summary conviction for this offence, you could be liable for a class C fine or a prison sentence of no longer than 12 months. If the court decides, you could be liable for both. On conviction on indictment for possessing controlled drugs, the court can decide on an appropriate fine and you could also be liable for a prison sentence of not more than seven years. Again, if the court decides, you could be liable for both.
It is also an offence to grow cannabis plants or opium poppies and on summary conviction for this offence, you could be liable for a class C fine or a prison sentence of no longer than 12 months. If the court decides, you could be liable for both. On conviction on indictment for growing these plants, the court can decide on an appropriate fine and you could also be liable for a prison sentence of not more than 14 years. Again, if the court decides, you could be liable for both.
It is an offence to use prepared opium (e.g., heroin) for illegal use, to go to a place for the purposes of using opium or to have any paraphernalia (pipes, utensils) associated with illegal opium use in your possession. On summary conviction for this offence, you could be liable for a class C fine or a prison sentence of no longer than 12 months. If the court decides, you could be liable for both. On conviction on indictment for this offence, the court can decide on an appropriate fine and you could also be liable for a prison sentence of no more than 14 years. Again, if the court decides, you could be liable for both.
Under the legislation, it is an offence to be in possession of a controlled drug with the intention of selling it illegally. Anyone found guilty of this offence is liable to a class C fine on summary conviction in a District Court. If the court decides, he or she could be subject to a fine and a prison term not exceeding 12 months. On conviction on indictment for this offence, the court can decide on an appropriate fine. The court can also impose a life sentence for this offence if it decides it is necessary. However, lesser sentences can also be imposed, either with a fine or alone.
Where the market value of the drugs is €13,000 or more, the person convicted is liable for a minimum sentence of 10 years. This does not apply, however, where the court is satisfied there are exceptional circumstances. Similar penalties apply to somone convicted of importing drugs with a value of €13,000 or more.
Anyone found guilty of supplying or attempting to supply a controlled drug into a prison, children detention school or remand centre can receive a class B fine on summary conviction or a prison term not exceeding 12 months or both. On conviction on indictment, the court can impose an appropriate fine or a maximum prison term of 10 years or both.
Under the Criminal Justice (Psychoactive Substances) Act 2010 it is an offence to sell or supply for human consumption substances which are not specifically proscribed under the Misuse of Drugs Acts, but which have psychoactive effects. Anyone found guilty of such an offence is liable for a class A fine on summary conviction or imprisoned for a term not exceeding 12 months or both. On conviction on indictment they can be fined or imprisoned for a term not exceeding 5 years or both.
Anyone who occupies or controls any land, vehicle or vessel and is found guilty of allowing it to be used for activities such as the manufacture, importation or supply of a controlled drug is liable on summary conviction to a clas C fine or a prison sentence of no longer than 12 months or both. On conviction on indictment for this offence, the court can impose an appropriate fine or a prison sentence of no more than 14 years or both.
It is an offence to forge a prescription or to try to change it in any way in order to deceive. Anyone found guilty of this offence is liable, on summary conviction, to a class D fine or a prison sentence not exceeding six months. If the court decides, you could be liable for both. On conviction on indictment for this offence, the court can decide on an appropriate fine and/or impose a prison term not exceeding three years.
It is an offence to attempt to commit a drug offence covered by the legislation, or to help or incite someone else to commit the drug offence. If you are found guilty you are liable to be sentenced as if you had committed the drug offence.
For some drugs offences, (illegal possession of controlled drugs, possession of controlled drugs for unlawful sale or supply, breaking the regulations regarding opium, growing opium poppies or cannabis plants or forging or fraudulently altering prescriptions), the court may decide that imposing the usual penalties is not the most effective response. The court can remand you for whatever period it considers necessary (no longer than eight days if you are being held in custody). During this time, the court can ask the Health Service Executice (HSE), a Probation officer or other qualified person to prepare a medical report and/or a report on your vocational, educational and social circumstances. They may also be asked to make recommendations for your treatment.
Based on the findings of these reports, the court may decide not to impose a fine or prison sentence on you. Instead, you may be placed under the supervision of a named person or body (such as the HSE) for a specified period of time or you may be required to get the kind of treatment (medical or otherwise) that has been recommended for you. The court may also order that you complete a course of education, instruction or training that will improve your job prospects or social circumstances, facilitate your social rehabilitation or reduce the likelihood of you committing further drugs offences.
Depending on the circumstances of your case, the court may order that you be detained in a specialised custodial treatment centre. The period you can be held for depends on your offence. You cannot be held for longer than a year, but if the maximum period of imprisonment that the court may impose for your particular crime is shorter than a year, you can only be held for that period of time.
If the court decides it is in your best interests, you may not be allowed to see the contents of any report that has been prepared on your case. However, the report will be made available to your barrister or solicitor.
If you ignore an order of the court, you can be detained in a custodial treatment centre or have the usual penalties for your offence (fines and/or imprisonment) imposed on you.
If you have been sent to a custodial treatment centre by a court order, you can make an application to the court that detention is no longer in your best interest or in the best interests of other people at the centre. Based on this application, the court can review your case and revoke the detention order. It then has a number of options open to it. If the court decides that you are still in need of treatment, it can order your continued detention, possibly in another treatment centre. If custodial treatment is not considered necessary, you may be ordered to continue treatment but not on a custodial basis. The court can also decide to impose the usual penalties (prison sentence and/or fine) under the Misuse of Drugs Act for your offence if it considers it appropriate to do so. This will depend on the circumstances of your case and if a prison sentence is imposed, the court must take into account the amount of time you have already been detained in a treatment centre. The court also has the option of not imposing any penalty if it is satisfied that you are no longer in need of treatment and that the circumstances of your case do not warrant further penalties.
If you are unable to contact the Head Office of the Customs National Drug Team by phone, you can download the Customs Drug Watch Report Form here and send it by FREEPOST to the Customs National Drug Team's Head Office. You can read more about the Customs Drug Watch service here (pdf) (also includes contact information for local Drugs Watch Officers).
Tel:+353 1 827 7697
Fax:+353 1 827 7680
If you have a question relating to this topic you can contact the Citizens Information Phone Service on 0761 07 4000 (Monday to Friday, 9am to 8pm) or you can visit your local Citizens Information Centre.