Cannabis users should start getting angry

3rd December 1999

The news that two Leaving Cert students have been expelled for smoking cannabis in their own time should be a wake-up call for anyone interested in civil liberties in this country. There’s so much rotten about this case it’s difficult to know where to start.

Let’s state the facts as they were reported in the press. Two students were spotted smoking cannabis in a pub by a teacher. The students admitted that they were smoking cannabis and expressed remorse in letters to the school. They were then expelled.

Firstly there’s the issue of privacy. The High Court judge found it was reasonable that the school should have a policy of ‘zero tolerance’ on drugs. The rule was that students found using drugs inside or outside the school would be expelled.

It is in no way ‘reasonable’ that students should be pursued into their private lives to find out whether they are using drugs. Would the judge approve of the students being followed? Would he approve of the school hiring private detectives? Does he have a problem with surveillance or phone tapping? Perhaps he thinks that students should be videoed going to the toilet.

The learned judge said that he couldn’t ‘lightly’ interfere with the autonomy of the school. And this in the days of ‘States of Fear” when the dangers of allowing schools and private institutions of being a law unto themselves has been clearly revealed. Rape and physical abuse of the most horrific kind had been perpetrated while officials and local communities felt that they couldn’t ‘lightly’ interfere with their autonomy.

Perhaps the press reports weren’t comprehensive but from what was reported the judge didn’t concern himself with the interests of the two people who had most to lose from this sordid episode – the students themselves.

It would be interesting to know why the teacher was at the same party as the students. It would be interesting to know how the teacher identified that the students were smoking cannabis and not just a rolled cigarette. It would be interesting to know why the students admitted their ‘offence’. The judge didn’t concern himself with these questions.

Now if these students were plotting to rob the national mint in Stillorgan you might think that the infringement on their privacy was justified. But they were smoking a joint at a party.

Let nobody now argue that our current regime on cannabis is a benign one, with the interests of people at heart. The campaign against cannabis is now revealed for what it is – a vicious reactionary programme of persecution which attempts to follow individuals into their own homes to prevent them from exercising free choice.

The issues surrounding cannabis are now seeping into mainstream politics. We don’t know for sure what proportion of the adult population regularly smokes dope. It could be up to 20%. It could well be more.

We do know that a majority of the population is deciding how a large minority should conduct their private lives. If the same principle applied across the board, Catholics here could outlaw the Church of Ireland.

The point is not whether cannabis is good or bad but whether the State or your next-door neighbour can second-guess your decisions. Meanwhile the courts, the gardai and now private schools can use this absurd law to abuse or ignore the fundamental rights of citizens in this Republic.