The Misuse of Drugs Act 1977 and the Misuse of Drugs Act 1984 are the primary pieces of legislation under which you can be criminally charged for drug offences. This legislation has been further amended by the Criminal Justice Act 1999, the Criminal Justice Act 2006, the Criminal Justice Act 2007 and the Misuse of Drugs (Amendment) Act 2015.
The Misuse of Drugs Regulations list the different substances that the legislation applies to. The Criminal Justice (Psychoactive Substances) Act 2010 also covers substances which are not specifically banned under the Misuse of Drugs Acts, but which have psychoactive effects.
The main criminal charges for drug offences are offences of drug possession and possession for the purpose of supply.
The Misuse of Drugs (Supervised Injecting Facilities Act) 2017 provides for the establishment and regulation of supervised injecting facilities. These facilities aim to reduce harm to people who inject drugs, reduce the number of people injecting drugs in public places and reduce drug litter in public places.
How the Garda Síochána tackle drug abuse and drug trafficking
The Garda Síochána has a number of units and initiatives aimed at combating drug abuse and drug trafficking internationally and locally. These include:
- The Garda National Drugs and Organised Crime Bureau which targets national and international drugs trafficking
- The Criminal Assets Bureau which seizes the assets of people who have been convicted of drug trafficking
- Local Drugs Units which police the drugs situation at local level
- Garda juvenile liaison officers who work with young people to try and prevent them from getting involved with drugs
- Community Policing Fora which have been set up in some areas to deal with a drug problem in a community with the help of the community
- The Dial to Stop Drug Dealing initiative which provides a confidential and anonymous way for someone to pass information to the Gardaí about drug dealing in their community
- Awareness-raising programmes such as the Garda Schools Programme and the Juvenile Diversion Programme
How the Customs and Excise service tackle drug trafficking
The Customs and Excise service are responsible for detecting and seizing controlled drugs at importation. The Gardaí and the Custom and Excise service cooperate closely in the area of drug law enforcement. There is a joint task force involving the Gardaí, the Customs and Excise service and the Naval Services. These bodies liaise at a local level to prevent drug trafficking. The Customs and Excise service is involved in the Multi-Disciplinary Group on Organised Crime and are also very involved with the Gardaí in the operation of the Criminal Assets Bureau. The Customs National Drug Team was set up by the Revenue Commissioners to tackle the illegal importation of drugs into Ireland.
Customs National Drug Team
The Customs National Drug Team (CNDT) concentrates solely on combating the importation of illegal drugs into Ireland. The CNDT has its Head Office in Dublin and intelligence units, operational units, maritime units and drug detector dog units placed at all major ports and airports and at various coastal locations nationwide. 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.
Possession of controlled drugs - cannabis or cannabis resin
Under the Misuse of Drugs Acts anyone found in possession of cannabis or cannabis resin is guilty of an offence. Depending on the circumstances, the matter may be dealt with under the Adult Cautioning Scheme if the offence happened on or after 14 December 2020. If it is dealt with under the Adult Cautioning Scheme, you will receive a caution and not be prosecuted. The Gardaí must consider a number of factors to see if the scheme is appropriate for your alleged offence. In particular, consideration must be given to the type, quantity and value of the drug and whether in all the circumstances the offence disclosed amounts to simple possession.
If the matter is prosecuted and 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 €2,500. For a second offence, a class D fine can be imposed on summary conviction. On conviction on indictment, a fine of €2,500 can be imposed. For a third or subsequent conviction, a class C fine can be imposed. If the court decides, a prison sentence of up to 12 months can also be imposed. On conviction on indictment, the court may decide on an appropriate fine, or a prison sentence of up to three years, or both.
Possession of any other controlled drugs
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 up to 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 up to 7 years. Again, if the court decides, you could be liable for both.
Growing cannabis plants or opium poppies
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 up to 14 years. Again, if the court decides, you could be liable for both.
It is an offence:
- To use prepared opium (heroin) for illegal use
- To go to a place for the purposes of using opium
- 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 up to 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 up to 14 years. Again, if the court decides, you could be liable for both.
Possession of controlled drugs for sale or supply
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, they 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. However, this does not apply, if the court is satisfied that there are exceptional circumstances. Similar penalties apply to someone 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 of up to 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 substances for human consumption if the substances are not specifically banned under the Misuse of Drugs Acts, but they have psychoactive effects. Anyone found guilty of such an offence is liable for a class A fine on summary conviction, or a term of imprisonment of up to 12 months, or both. On conviction on indictment they can be fined or imprisoned for a term not exceeding 5 years, or both.
Use of premises, vehicles or vessels for certain activities
It is an offence for anyone who occupies or controls any land, vehicle or vessel to use it to manufacture, import or supply a controlled drug. If they are found guilty of this offence they are liable on summary conviction to a class C fine, or a prison sentence of up to 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.
Forged or fraudulently altered prescriptions
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 6 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, or impose a prison term not exceeding 14 years, or both.
Attempting or helping others to commit an offence
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 of this offence you are liable to be sentenced as if you had committed the drug offence.
Court-ordered drug treatment
For some drugs offences the court may decide that imposing the usual penalties is not the most effective response. These offences include:
- Illegal possession of controlled drugs
- Possession of controlled drugs for unlawful sale or supply
- Breaking the regulations about opium, growing opium poppies or cannabis plants
- Forging or fraudulently altering prescriptions
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 Executive (HSE), a probation officer or another 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. However, if the maximum period of imprisonment that the court can impose for your 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 for your offence such as a prison sentence and/or a fine. 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 can decide not to impose any further penalties if it is satisfied that you no longer need treatment and that the circumstances of your case do not warrant further penalties.
How to report suspicious activity, drug smuggling and drug dealing
If you want to report drug smuggling or suspicious activity you should contact Customs, see ‘Where to apply’ below. Read more about how you can help tackle drug smuggling on Revenue's website. Information about illegal drug activity should be reported to the Gardaí.
Where to apply