New Chairperson for Citizens’ Assembly on Drug use

Paul Reid’s Appointment As Chairperson Of The Citizens’ Assembly on Drug use Draws Varied Reactions

The government of Ireland selected the former Health Service Executive CEO Paul Reid as the chairperson of the recently set-up Citizens’ Assembly on Drug use.

Towards the end of February, the Citizens’ Assembly on Drugs Use was set up after resolutions in Seanad Éireann and Dáil, aiming to study the country’s existing drug policy and make recommendations to curb the use of illicit drugs among individuals and the society at large.

The confirmation that the former CEO of the Irish Health Service Executive (HSE), Paul Reid, had been selected to lead the assembly as an independent chairperson was made on Tuesday, 28th February, by Prime Minister Taoiseach Leo Varadkar.

The Citizens’ Assembly on Drug use will be composed of 99 members drawn from the general public and will be selected using a random criteria.

Until October 2022, Mr. Reid had served the Irish Health Service Executive (HSE) for three years and was notably at the helm as we battled the Covid-19 pandemic.

Nonetheless, some drug reform advocates have met Mr. Reid’s appointment with some reservations, owing to the hard and negative stand the Health Service Executive (HSE) has taken on the drug issue in the past.

Specifically, criticism has been raised over the “limiting” nature of operations of the Irish Medical Cannabis Access Programme (MCAP). Although the Programme was announced in 2019 during the reign of Simon Harris, the former Minister for Health, it never really began its work until 2021 and had only registered less than 100.

In addition, most people have complained that chronic pain has been completely disregarded by the Programme, which provides access to limited products for individuals struggling with one of three qualifying conditions only. These conditions are spasticity linked to multiple sclerosis (MS), severe treatment-resistant epilepsy, and intractable nausea and vomiting due to chemotherapy.

In the words of Peter Reynolds, the chairperson of the Irish Cannabis Industry Council (CIC) working group and a veteran advocate for drug reform, “the existing Medical Cannabis Access Programme (MCAP) is one of the most limiting in Europe.”

He continues, “MCAP has ignored the thousands of Irish citizens struggling with chronic pain, which warrants prescription of the right medicine.”

A Lost Chance?

When talking to the Independent. I.e., Green Party TD Patrick Costello termed the decision to select Mr. Reid as the chair of the Citizens’ Assembly on Drug use as a “missed opportunity” and a “very bad decision.”

Mr. Costello said, “The main objective for the Citizens’ Assembly is to introduce fresh and impactful thinking and the ability to explore new ideas. Anyone who has functioned as the head of the HSE is too invested in this matter.”

“We have missed an opportunity to let in fresh air to the drug discussion by bringing in someone who can inspire confidence in the assembly’s members.”

As per media reports, a representative of Mr. Reid confirmed that he has never used illegal drugs.

In the last few weeks, some officials in government have admitted to their history of taking drugs. For example, Hildegarde Naughton, the minister for Fine Gael Drugs Strategy, acknowledged having smoked cannabis in Ireland during her twenties.

In addition, Neale Richmond, the Fine Gael Minister of State, admitted to having attempted to smoke cannabis in Holland – a country where the drug is legalized – but hated the experience, calling it “horrible.”

Focus On Addressing The Stalemate On Drug Policy

CIC, representing the cannabis sector in the UK and Ireland, is hopeful that setting up the Citizens’ Assembly on Drugs use will “unlock the existing stalemate” on drug policy in Ireland.

According to Mr. Reynold’s assertions, there is a high probability that the assembly will be key to the reforms needed in the drug policy.

Mr. Reynolds said, “The Cannabis Industry Council hopes that establishing the Citizens’ Assembly on Drugs Use will address the existing stalemate on drug reforms in Ireland.”

Mr. Reynolds continued, “Ireland is in a difficult position regarding hemp and CBD. The legal authorities have been forcefully taking products from individuals and prosecuting them for defying the law. However, the judicial systems have issued quite different judgments on the issue.”

“Recently, the cannabis industry has been performing exemplary well, providing new jobs and businesses for people. However, it appears the Citizens’ Assembly is very likely to propose some liberalization, hoping to revive the sector and improve the Irish economy.”

Mr. Reynolds noted that the working group would “hold Mr. Reid to account” and was confident that his knowledge and past work experience made him the better choice for spearheading reforms in the sector.”

In the words of Mr. Reynolds, “Ireland’s medical bodies have taken an adverse position on medicinal cannabis, notwithstanding that MCAP is government policy.”

He continued, “Mr. Reid understands how the system works. Therefore, we hope he will bring the change that so many desire. We will hold Mr. Reid to account and make sure policies are made based on scientific research and evidence to reduce harm and bolster economic productivity.”

The Responsibility Of The General Public

In the next week, 20,000 households all over Ireland will get invitational letters from Taoiseach Leo Varadkar requesting a representative from the household to make an application to become a member of the Citizens’ Assembly.

Once the applications are closed, 99 members will be selected from the list of applicants to join the assembly. The selection will be made considering the applicant’s gender, age, and location.

The inauguration meeting of the Citizens’ Assembly is scheduled to occur on 14th April, with the report of the meeting to be delivered to the Houses of the Oireachtas before the end of the year.

While talking about his recent appointment, Mr. Reid said, “I am happy to be appointed by the Taoiseach as chairperson of the Citizens’ Assembly on Drugs used. The problems caused by drug use in Ireland impact all our lives, somehow.”

“The assemblies of the past have proved the importance of the role of the general public in addressing some of the complex issues affecting the society, and I am committed to ensuring this role is respected as has been the case before.”

“Processes to select the members of the general public who will join the Citizens’ Assembly will commence this week. I am eager to work together with my fellow members of the Citizens’ Assembly over the upcoming months.”

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