At Harris Sliwoski, we keep close tabs on what is happening around the world, and we know that our friends and clients do, as well. We are happy to provide this podcast series: Global Law and Business, hosted by international attorneys Fred Rocafort and Jonathan Bench, where we look at the world by talking with business leaders, innovators, service providers, manufacturers, and government leaders around the world.

In Episode #65, we are joined by Natalie O’Regan, a cannabis activist in Ireland.

We discuss:

We’ll see you next week for another exciting and informative episode when we sit down with Chris Campbell to discuss his The Tales of the Tribunal Podcast, and much more!

This podcast audio has been transcribed by an automatic transcriber.

Fred Rocafort  0:07 

Global law and global business go hand in hand, but never seem to keep pace with each other. The importance on the global stage of developing and developed nations waxes and wanes, while consumption and interconnectedness steadily increase all the while laws and regulations change incessantly requiring businesses to stay nimble. But how do we make sense of it all? Welcome to Global Law and Business hosted by Harris Sliwoski International Business attorneys. I’m Fred Rocafort.


Jonathan Bench  0:37 

And I’m Jonathan Bench. Every week, we take a targeted look at legal and economic developments in locales around the world as we try to decipher global trends in law and business with the help of international experts. We cover continents, countries, regimes, governance, finance, legal developments, and whatever is trending on Twitter. We cover the important, the seemingly unimportant, the relatively simple and the complex.


Fred Rocafort  1:02 

We hope you enjoyed today’s podcast. Please connect with us on social media to comment and suggest future topics and guests.


Natalie O’Regan began studying law at University College Cork in 2016, where she completed both a bcl degree and a master’s degree in law. Her research titled Blunt Trauma, the Consequences of Stigma on Cannabis Users and the Need for Decriminalization in Ireland led her to have a passion for drug policy reform, and more specifically cannabis reform in Ireland. Natalie is very active in her activism with a network in Ireland and across Europe. Now that her legal education is complete, she is embarking on her first steps into the professional legal world. And with that Natalie would like to welcome you to Harris Sliwoski, Global Law and Business.


Natalie O’Regan  2:01 

Hi, everybody. Thanks very much, guys for having me on the podcast. great introduction. You make me sound a lot better than I actually am.


Jonathan Bench  2:10 

We all feel the same way Natalie when we get introduced. We’re very happy to have you with us today. Can you please set the stage by summarizing for us and our audience what the legal situation of cannabis is in Ireland right now.


Natalie O’Regan  2:22 

So currently in Ireland, cannabis is prohibited. That is everything from personal possession to larger quantities. And any cannabis product with a trace of THC in it is currently illegal. So that impacts a lot on CBD products as well. And we do have criminalization for personal possession in Ireland, the criminalization of it is a lot less than it would be for other drugs. So there is that distinction there from we’d say, heroin and cocaine, the criminal penalties do differ for cannabis. So the majority of the time if you are caught with personal possession of cannabis in Ireland, you will have to go through the court system which involves lawyers and everything else that goes with it, you could be waiting 18 months, two years to have your case heard. And you will probably get a monetary fine somewhere around the region of 50 euros to 500 euros it completely depends on the the judge, what mood the judge is in the day and your past record as well. And there is alternative options that have always been on the statute books in Ireland, such as rehabilitation, parole probation, and they’re not really utilized by the judges, they the judges don’t entertain the alternative sanctions and the alternative options available to them. So unfortunately, cannabis is very, very highly criminalized in Ireland. And because it is one of the the widest used drugs in Ireland, it is the most popular drug in Ireland for drug use. It does capture an awful lot of people under this umbrella. Like the last figures from 2019, there was I think, 15,000 personal possession cases gone through the courts. That’s not just for cannabis. That’s all drugs, we don’t have a breakdown in the figures to apply it to cannabis. But if you use your logic and you think that it’s the most widely used drug in Ireland, then you can come to the conclusion that it’s also probably the most widely criminalized. So it is very strict at the moment. And there are cautionary schemes that are being introduced. So if you’re caught with cannabis, then you’re just get a caution off of the guards here, which is the police force. And there has announcements have been made upon its implementation. We still haven’t got a date on when it’s going to be implemented. We don’t have any information on what sort of discretion is going to be used by the police force here around it. So there is a lot, a lot of questions that still remain here about it.


Fred Rocafort  5:04 

On Twitter, there was a post of yours where you highlighted the fact that approximately 90% of respondents favored legalization of cannabis in Ireland. Why is there this disparity? And as you think of this, perhaps you can think of it from an Irish perspective, right? Because each country has its own factors that might impact that we’re one of the issues that we’ve dealt with here in the United States is that even where you have states that that are very open to the idea of legalization, they still run against problems at the at the federal level. That’s obviously not an issue in Ireland. So why is this why do I Why does this happen? And and not just in Ireland, right? This is a reality that we see. In many countries around the world, you have a clear desire on the part of the population to legalize cannabis, yet it doesn’t happen. What Why is that?


Natalie O’Regan  5:59 

If I could answer that question, I’d probably be a millionaire. And it’s not alone to Ireland. It’s not a unique situation to Ireland at all. I think, especially with the moves that have been made in the cannabis arena globally, in the last number of years. The attitude is changing, the public opinion is changing. And as always, the government and the law are very slow to catch up with public opinion, public opinion, as always more ahead than the decisions that are being made on the ground. What I think in Ireland as well, like there’s been a number of polls in the last couple of years, and every time there’s a poll, the figures in favor of some sort of legalization in Ireland has risen dramatically. Like there was one that was 60%. And now the latest one is 93%. So like the 93% encompasses both some sort of legalization, whether it is for medical use or adult use. And but there is a clear passion with a lot of people in Ireland to legalize cannabis. It is a topic of conversation that is just getting louder and louder. It’s growing. And it’s gone beyond the stereotypical cannabis users that would spring to mind like the image that would spring to mind of a lot of people when you think of your stereotypical cannabis users. And we’re showing in Ireland in the last number of years, it is no longer confined to stereotypical cannabis use. We have 70 year old men and women who are using cannabis for their illnesses. 80 year olds, 90 year olds, we have 17-18 Well, not 17 they’re minors, but we have like young people, 20 years of age 25-30 years of age, that are using cannabis to medicate themselves or to treat themselves for a range of illnesses, from anxiety to depression, to chronic fatigue to chronic pain to symptoms from epilepsy and multiple sclerosis and a wider range of illnesses. And I think this is going a long way to break down the barriers that are very stigmatizing towards cannabis users, like the people are realizing it is not just your stereotypical users anymore. It is above and beyond. And I think with the the wider global movement towards cannabis reform, people are more educated than they ever were. There’s more education. And there’s more literature out there on the topic that is palatable to your everyday layman. You don’t need a degree you don’t need an education don’t understand this, the literature that’s put out there anymore. And I think people are also at the same time they’re doing their own research, they’re making up their own mind. They’re not just blindly listening and blindly following what they’ve been told the years of just say no to drugs. That doesn’t work. It has never worked. And people I think are opening their eyes and they are realizing the how much we need reform in Ireland.


Jonathan Bench  8:58 

So we mentioned in your introduction, that your interest in cannabis policy emerged as a result of your research. Can you tell us more about your research, and maybe some personal experiences you’ve had that have maybe changed your mind or at least broaden your perspective on cannabis?


Natalie O’Regan  9:15 

Well, I was always kind of interested in drug policy, and mainly because like I wouldn’t have come from a very affluent background. So I would have seen a lot of drug use and growing up and drug use in a way it was kind of normalized. There was always people that were using drugs and you could tell by the look of them what drugs they were using and who to stay away from and who not. And along with that I also seen the damage that drugs in general can do to people and but also the damage that the criminal justice system can do to people. And if you’re coming from an area that is demographically targeted by police, by resources, by education by absolutely everything the prohibition on drugs and the criminalization of people don’t really help the issues that they’re already facing in society. So I always had a passion for it, I just didn’t know where this was going to lead. So when I was doing my master’s degree in UCC, we done a module on criminology and the theory behind why people commit crimes and the effects that crime has on people in the wider society. And we done one module in that course. And it was about stigma, legalizing, labeling people, stigmatizing people and the effects and consequences that are has. And I don’t think I slept for four days after that. Because the little hamster in the wheel of my head was just going around and around and around. And I still to this day, have random pieces of paper with 3am notes on it in my bedroom of where I started. And I think that’s just where I started from the hamster on the wheel was going around with stigma and labeling and the consequences of criminalization and I always had a passion for cannabis reform. I always knew that cannabis had medicinal properties, I was very engaged with the medicinal cannabis fight that we had in Ireland. So I just thought I’d branch out and tackle the cannabis topic from another end, which ended up being stigmatization, and criminalization.


Fred Rocafort  11:25 

Natalie, before our interviews, we try to do a little bit of research, we look for other interviews that are that our guests have participated in. And during the course of that I I stumbled upon one of your interviews, and there was a quote there that really caught my attention a little bit. similarly to what you just described, right, that hamster wheel going off and you said, and I quote, I think in general society needs to label those that they do not want in their society, and they need to label them as outsiders as on desirables. That creates a kind of them versus us attitude. We are not like them. We don’t want them in our community, we are better than them. by labeling people as undesirables, those that feel that they are at the higher end of society are able to legitimize their feelings towards the lower end of society now that that really blew my mind. I mean, just thinking about it in those terms. It’s not just cannabis, right? There’s there’s all sorts of other behaviors where where we see that and even to the extent that some behavior is associated with people being undesirables often that behavior is really not that different than that carried out by people that are not labeled in that way. It’s just that it’s different. You know, here in the US, if you go to one of the casinos in a part of the country, that that’s not very prosperous. People will say, well look at those people, you know, they’re spending their money on games, you know, they shouldn’t be saving, they really shouldn’t be gambling their money away. But at the same time we celebrate trips to Las Vegas, or Atlantic City, something fun, it’s just that they’re it’s interesting how that labeling can take place. But in any case, I’d love to hear more about this. Can you please dive deeper into into this quote, and perhaps with with particular relevance to what you see in Ireland? How does this play out?


Natalie O’Regan  13:11 

Now, this is the danger zone because I can talk for about five hours on this topic. But they during my research, I came across this old criminological theory called the criminal man that was written by lombroso. Now, his theory was that he was able to identify criminals from the way their nose was the way their eyes sat in their head the way their hands were. And whether they had tattoos, whether they were a certain color skin, no, this was written in 1876, there was very racist undertones to it. And it has been disproven again and again and again. So I’m not sitting here saying that it’s right or wrong. But I think it describes an awful lot. And his theory was this them versus us. So by allowing us to identify criminals very easily were able to outcast them, we are able to label them not like us. And I think when you delve deeper into from the 1800s, all the way up till today, that theory still is like it’s floating like an undercurrent underneath the drug policy laws and the drug laws that we have in place at the moment. And as you said, it can be discussed through every aspect of life It can affect this theory can be applied to an awful lot of things, not just cannabis. But I think it still manifests itself today in 2021. So my research was taking this theory lombroso is criminal man theory and seeing how does that transform to today. So, I looked into it and there was a we have labeling and we have stigmatization, so the need to label them versus us and the need to label others manifests itself in criminal punishment. labeling a person as a criminal, by labeling them as a criminal that allows society to turn their nose up to turn their back on the people to not care about people. The people in society might be generally very good people, very decent people that would help absolutely anybody. But, when you’re allowed feel like this when it’s legitimate to feel like this, and it’s legitimized turning your back on people, then society will do it. And when you think of it in terms of cannabis, I think often when you are criminalized for cannabis, you are in Ireland the way it is, you go through the court system, the judge finds you guilty, you might have a couple of 100 euro fine, you walk out the door, you don’t serve any time in prison, but, your name, your address, your age is put on their local newspaper, it’s pushed on the national newspapers. So it’s advertising it, then you go back into your society or you go back home or wherever you live back into your community, you are now labeled a criminal, you are now labeled as a bad person. You are a bad person, everyone’s gonna treat you like a bad person. And if everybody treats you like a bad person, sure, you may as well become a bad person because you have nothing else to lose. And it is a snowball effect going like you can go back to 1800s and bad criminological theory. But the hangover of that theory is still very, very relevant today. Like you have your name on the newspapers, you have a criminal record, you will encounter visa issues. You can’t get travel visas, you can’t get a visa to America, Canada. And for certain jobs in Ireland, you need like Garda vetting, which is like a police force vetting, they run your name through a system and see if anything pops up. You can’t get certain jobs because you cannot pass the vetting process because you have a drug conviction. You can’t get certain jobs because you have a drug conviction. Them versus us is still prevalent today in society, even though it is a old theory that has been many times disproven. It’s still causing harm.


Jonathan Bench  17:20 

And is this consistent across racial barriers in Ireland? Would you say that the racial breakdown? Does this tend to disproportionately affect minority groups or it you see this across all races in Ireland?


Natalie O’Regan  17:35 

We don’t have access to figures that would specify a lot of information, a lot of the figures that we would get would be just generic figures. So it is very hard to actually get into the nitty gritty orders and see, how is this affecting certain people and certain demographics. I would say that purely from my upbringing, and what I have seen myself, I do think there is certain demographics in society that are over policed. And whether they are from a certain area, whether they’re have a certain last name, whether they’re associated with a certain person, whether they have a certain type of color skin, there is targeted policing, and they’re often the cannabis laws and the drug laws are used, abused in these situations often. And I know myself, I’ve had stories where some young guy 20 years of age got stopped one night and he had four euros or five euros worth of cannabis on him. Every single time he goes outside the door and meets a police officer, he is stuffed and searched. And this is also going to certain areas. So there is deprived communities in Ireland and there is deprived areas. These areas are over policed you you wouldn’t see the same level of police activities in certain these areas, then you would in more affluent areas. You wouldn’t see affluent teenagers or young people getting treated the same as people from another area.


Jonathan Bench  19:11 

So how do you see Ireland going forward on this issue? And what do you see as your own personal role moving forward?


Natalie O’Regan  19:19 

I think we have an uphill battle in Ireland to get the government to engage in the wider conversation of cannabis reform and drug policy reform and in general, and so far there has been your as you mentioned yourself, there was portals that have shown fever, myself and others have tried to get the government to engage with us tried to get the government to sit down and listen. There is no engagement. There is no appetite from the government to actively discuss this issue or even actively researched it and and for the government to say wait, do they actually have a point? You know, are we the ones that are behind the time here. So I do think like the future of cannabis reform in Ireland is an uphill battle. And I don’t think it will be an easy battle by any means. And if there’s one thing the Irish government are good at is putting their head in the sand and digging their heels in the ground. So we’ll have to drag them kicking and screaming into the 21st century, I think my role in is, hopefully is to keep the conversation going and to not shut up until they listen. And what I do think when you look at the wider world, and there is reforms every single day, there’s news of somebody else decriminalizing somebody else legalizing some other country making moves and in the cannabis arena, I think they will eventually Listen, but I think the bottom line on what when they will listen is when you bring money into it. And I think we have to just show the government like how much revenue you can get from this, like, how much revenue you can save by not criminalizing people by not making cannabis illegal anymore. Make it a viable industry, it’s easily done. And there is potential for tremendous amounts of revenue that we could put into our health service to put into a mental health service into our youth programs, youth services for the next generation.


Fred Rocafort  21:17 

Maybe cannabis can can fuel the next Celtic Tiger period, right?


Natalie O’Regan  21:22 

The Cannabis Tiger there we go!


Fred Rocafort  21:24 

Cannabis tiger, trademark that Jonathan quickly quickly.


Natalie O’Regan  21:30 

I’m copywriting my name by the way.


Jonathan Bench  21:32 

What is your viewpoint on the way Ireland deals with class disparities versus the UK versus mainland? You know, I feel in the US were removed from it. But I know that it’s it can be a very significant part of the way people process who they interact with in society. So it can you take a couple of minutes and comment on what you see in Ireland versus maybe the UK versus mainland Europe?


Natalie O’Regan  21:57 

I wouldn’t be an expert on it. So if somebody down the future can say that I’ve done I’ve said something wrong, by all means educate me, my brain is always open. But in England, there is more of a class divide, I think, than what we’d have ourselves in Ireland. In England, it is very upper class, middle class, lower class working class, there is an awful lot of a class divide over there that I would see, compared to what we have in Ireland, I don’t think we’d have two or three different classes in Ireland, I think there is just maybe two separate classes on Ireland. And I can’t say with confidence that it would come down to purely monetary reasons, either. Maybe a lot of it might trace back to the political foundations of the state, I think there might be a class divide based on which side you’re on back in the day, more than anything else. But there is a class divide, there is certain areas that would be different to other areas to be certain counties, that would be considerably lower down on the scale than other counties like that. Everything revolves around Dublin, the capital, and anything outside the Dublin is second second class citizens really here in Ireland, what we’re changing, like I’m from cork in Ireland, and we would have a divide in terms of Are you from the north side of the city or the south side of the city. And that would be our class divide, I think they’d have something similar in Dublin, or you Southside or north side, East Side or west side. So there would be that divided. And it like the differences in each areas and their schools and their roads, everything it’s visible to see.


Fred Rocafort  23:51 

I’m glad you asked that question, Jonathan. And actually, this is a fascinating topic, because I’m sure it happens to people from every country, but certainly for us in the United States, we have a certain way of looking at the world, whether you agree with that, or whether you challenge it. But nonetheless, there’s a certain structure to how we look at issues like this, there are certain things we we often associate perhaps subconsciously with positive negative negative traits. And then when you go to another country, a lot of those markers disappeared, so to speak, right so so I think an American can go to a place like Dublin or a place like London and they could be walking into a neighborhood that is considered by locals to be somewhat dangerous, but they’re American prison they’re looking at they’re saying, well, this looks like a like a like a perfectly nice neighborhood. You know, the houses look like the house is in the good neighborhoods in my city and it’s very leafy. And you know, the people kind of look like the people back in my neighborhood. But in reality, right within that, that society there’s those fault lines are going to are going to be elsewhere and then not necessarily visible to to to to a visitor to an outsider, right, so glad you brought that up, Jonathan. And thank you, Natalie, for for taking a stab at that that was actually quite interesting.


Natalie O’Regan  25:06 

As well in Ireland, you’d always spot an American, you can spot an American tourists from five miles down a country road. Don’t take that bus. No, no, no, you need to take another bus. We do try and help when they get a bit lost.


Fred Rocafort  25:20 

I think Americans can be spotted from space. A lot of it has to do with the baseball hats. The white chain is the fanny pack, or whatever you call them are easy to spot. But I lived in China for many years, Jonathan’s spent time over there as well. And then very often, you’d see usually Western tourists engaging in behavior that you knew wasn’t prudent, right? And I did at least on one occasion, I snatched a backpacker out of a potentially problematic situation might be a little too trusting, you know, for the environment. But yeah, we’re easy to spot.


Natalie O’Regan  25:59 

But it is true, like you’d have different markers in America compared to what we would. So what you would consider danger we wouldn’t consider or vice versa. So when you do come to a new country, you do have to learn and change and try to figure out what way things work. I’m too much of a home bird, I very rarely leave Ireland.


Fred Rocafort  26:20 

Then this must have been a perfect time for you with the with the pandemic and all other restrictions, right?


Natalie O’Regan  26:26 

Yeah, you can’t go to another county, but I’m from the biggest one in Ireland anyway. So we did we have everything in our borders, we were quite happy to leave the rest of Ireland to do what they want. Leave us Cork people alone.


Fred Rocafort  26:39 

Before we sign off, I’d like to ask you for any recommendations you might have for us and our listeners.


Natalie O’Regan  26:45 

There’s two books that I read over the last number of years that still to this day, there’s sentences and phrases that springs to mind. And there’s there’s there’s two books that always going to ground me when I have doubts about my activism and doubts about or should I just shut up every now and again. So the two books are worn by Johann Hari called chasing the scream. If you haven’t read it, it’s a must read. And the other one is by Dr. Carl Hart, Drug Use for Grownups. That is another amazing read. And I think if you haven’t read those two books, and you want an opinion on drug policy, they’re they’re the ones to go to.


Fred Rocafort  27:28 

Thank you. Thank you for that. Jonathan, what about you? What What do you have for us?


Jonathan Bench  27:33 

I’ve been spending a lot of time on YouTube watching the US Olympic trials. I think by the time an Olympic by Olympic trials, I mean, not legal trials, of course, this is the sport trials, as everyone’s been preparing to go to the Olympics. And so I think by the time this episode airs this, the Olympics may already be on or done. But I am a big fan of I’ve seen what the human body can do, right? I mean, they’re amazing things. And we see people shaving, you know, a few hundredths of a second off of their time in their chosen sport. I was watching track last night and swimming. And I recommend that as as we get into this time, this I love the Olympics because we get to see the greatness of people all around the world. And it you know, in this time that we’ve all been going through the pandemic and feeling very much separated from each other. It’s fun to see sport back on in a major way. Yeah, I know, Fred, you’re a you’re a big fan of, of international football. I like to tune in as well. And so it it for me, it’s it’s part of being an internationalist, is to enjoy seeing the whole world engaged in these kind of events together. So I recommend that you know, get on YouTube, look for highlights for your own country for you know, whatever, whatever athletes you’re interested in, and, and watch watch the world. I’m looking forward to being a little sleep deprived as the the Olympics go on in Japan. And we’re trying to follow them in the middle of our night, but it should be fun. Fred, what do you have for us? Well,


Fred Rocafort  29:10 

I’ve got two recommendations today. One of them is practical and not particularly serious. The other one is a little more serious. So the non serious one. Yesterday, I discovered the screen call function on Android if you’re getting hammered with calls by telemarketers and other undesirables to stick with, with the theme. Give it a try, you know just sort of hit me like I’ve never tried this. And essentially what it does is it begins a dialogue with the person who’s calling and provides you with a transcript of it so you can sort of read in to what’s happening. And if nothing else, right, it’s just it’s just great to imagine the frustration that these people are feeling when they’re calling you and disturbing you. There might be some listeners who are saying like, are you only five thought about this now, but well, it is it is what it is. If you’ve got an Android phone and you haven’t tried out the function, give it a try. That’s pretty cool. The second recommendation is a little it’s a little more serious. It’s the Dark Horse podcast hosted by Brett Weinstein and his wife, Heather haying, I believe is her family name. I’ll let readers sort of do their own research their own googling, make up your own opinion about about these these folks. But I would encourage listeners who haven’t listened to the podcast who haven’t were not familiar with this two figures, to at least do a little bit of research on their interests increasingly controversial, I must say they’re very involved with a lot of the debate going on around COVID. And well the issues related to the to the vaccines and other other issues. But ultimately, what I like about them is that they are fierce advocates of free speech that I encourage everyone who who has not had a chance to to hear them to take a look if ultimately they decide now this is not for me. I don’t like their style. Perfect but the Dark Horse podcast Have a listen on that note. And Natalie, I’d like to thank you once again for joining us. It’s been a pleasure. Hopefully we can have you back on the podcast before too long with developments to share when it comes to cannabis legislation in Ireland.


Natalie O’Regan  31:20 

I might have a few more gray hairs by then but no problem. I can give you all an update.


Jonathan Bench  31:25 

Thanks, Natalie. It’s been a lot of fun.


Natalie O’Regan  31:27 

No problem. Thank you very much for having me on guys. It’s been a pleasure.


Jonathan Bench  31:33 

We hope you enjoyed this week’s episode. We look forward to connecting with you on social media to continue discussing developments in global law and business. This podcast was produced by Harris Sliwoski with executive producer Madeline Williams music composed by Stephen Schmitt. Tune in next week for another episode. We’ll see you then.


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