In October of this year, the TCDSU Council voted for the adoption of a pro-decriminalisation of drugs stance by the Union. This motion originated from the SU Drugs Policy lobby group, who felt that this stance would encourage a more progressive approach to the policy on drugs in Ireland, perhaps similar to that of Portugal, where the possession of small quantities of drugs for personal use has been decriminalised since 2001. The Union of Students in Ireland (USI) is also in favour of the decriminalisation of drugs.
Many see the decriminalisation of drugs as a progressive way of tackling drug-related issues in Irish society. Proponents claim that decriminalisation measures can substantially reduce rates of substance abuse and addiction, as in Portugal, where these rates were cut by 50% following decriminalisation. Such measures would both help those with addiction and ease pressure on the Gardaí and the courts.
The SU Council made its decision on behalf of the student community, which in turn exercised the democracy of the Union. The Union’s stance on this issue is clear – but how do individual members of the student population feel? This is an important consideration, especially for those in Council who vote on this and similar issues.
Trinity News spoke with Eoghan, a Science student, who agreed with the motion, and felt that it was representative of the views of students in College. He accepted that the Council, comprised of Sabbatical Officers, Part-time Officers and Class Reps, could vote on this motion on behalf of all students, as their views are assumed to be representative of students within College. The complications of attempting to get the entire student community to vote in a referendum on this matter were also considered by Eoghan, who felt it that it “made sense” to leave the decision in the hands of the Council.
When asked what the pro-decriminalisation stance meant to him, he highlighted that it shouldn’t be seen as a means of facilitating safer recreational drug use among students, but instead should remove the stigma from those with genuine substance abuse problems wanting to seek help without being immediately labelled as criminals.
Laura, an English and Film Studies student, feels that when the SU vote on an issue with a potentially controversial nature, there is a danger that students who don’t agree with their stance may feel uncomfortable voicing their opinions on campus. When the question of fair representation was discussed in UCD, the Students for Fair Representation group noted that during the on-campus referendum in support of Repeal the 8th, the vote was split and the motion was carried by less than 50% of participants. This, in their opinion, was unfair to pro-life students.
Laura thinks that “more could be done to get the opinion of the entire student body” – does this mean a referendum would have been a better method of decision-making in this case? Could this stance act as a catalyst for conversation about the democracy of the SU? It must be ensured that any student who felt strongly about this contentious issue would have been able to make their voice heard.
This in turn raises the question of whether this motion is even relevant to the majority of students in Trinity. Laura offered the thought that students are an active voice for change in Irish society, as shown by the campus-wide support for the Repeal, Students Against Fees, and Marriage Referendum campaigns. “If some of our students feel passionate enough about a cause like this then they should be allowed fight for it,” she enthused.
Philip, a student in MSISS, wasn’t aware that the SU Council were voting on this motion and felt that it was badly publicised. Is it perhaps worrying that a large portion of the student body are ignorant about what our representatives are voting for on our behalf? Whilst he agreed with the motion, in terms of college students he didn’t think that it would have a major effect, stating: “it may encourage people who feel like they’re taking drugs too often to go and talk to someone about it.” However, he also mentioned that he doesn’t feel like there are many students in College with a drug problem or dependency.
Overall, it appears that this motion passed without much opposition from the student body, but it may well be that this particular motion will rarely come to affect students on campus. Seemingly, it is more of a step towards the achievement of the Drug Policy lobby group’s aims on a platform that is wider than the College community alone, rather than a student-wide issue that will leave a lasting impact on campus.