A high court ruling recently created an unprecedented legal situation in Ireland for a short period. A decision that judged the Misuse of Drugs Act 1977 unconstitutional resulted in several drugs, including ecstasy, crystal meth, and ketamine, becoming legalised for around 48 hours in Ireland.

Only possession of the substances was briefly legal, sale and supply remained illegal due to separate legislation. Other drugs that were prohibited by older acts of legislation, such as heroin, cannabis and cocaine, also remained illegal.

The strange circumstances arose due to the way the Misuse of Drugs Act 1977 had been used in the years since it was passed into law. In total, nine ministerial orders added to the list of banned substances the law covered in the years since it was first passed, making the drugs illegal without proper review and approval from the Oireachtas (Irish houses of parliament). The ministerial orders were used to keep up with new psychoactive drugs as they appeared, which has increasingly become the case with rise of ‘legal highs’, drugs altered to stay ahead of existing laws and remain legal.

One such substance, methylecathinone, led to the arrest of Stanislav Bederev, who was charged with possession. The arrest in 2012 came just two years after the substance was added to the 1977 Act in 2010. Mr Bederev brought his case to the high court on the grounds that the additions to the act had violated article 15 of the constitution.
After the court ruling, emergency legislation was immediately begun to reinstate the substances’ illegal status. Once approved by the Seanad (the second house of the Irish legislature) and the president Michael D Higgins, the law came into effect at midnight on Wednesday 11th March.

A further repercussion of the ruling is the potential for other cases to be revisited. One charge of possession pursued by the state over a €2.5 million haul of ecstasy was dropped the week after the emergency law was passed. It remains to be seen what further developments may arise.

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