Ireland is on track to decriminalize marijuana, cocaine, and heroin possession early next year. What appears to initially be a careless slip through the judicial system was actually a well planned shift in the way the country goes in dealing with potentially dangerous substances. So what exactly is Ireland planning on doing? Starting next year, drug users will be able to access medically-supervised injection rooms.

The purpose of this sort of a program is to begin a cultural shift in the way we often go about thinking about drug offenses. Ireland is choosing to stop viewing drug abuse as a criminal problem and is instead going to treat it as a healthcare problem. The plan to decriminalize minimal possession of drugs will allow for those individuals to have the possibility to undergo treatment without the risk of having to deal with any judicial consequences. This sort of compassionate approach considers the individual as a patient fighting an addiction, not as a criminal who is somehow responsible for their addiction.

According to ThinkProgressm the Minister in charge of the National Drugs Strategy, Aodhán Ó Ríordáin, explained how these sites are “clinically controlled environments which aim to engage hard-to-reach populations. Research has shown that the use of supervised injecting centers is associated with self-reported reductions in injecting risk behaviors.” By setting up these injection clinics, there is a hope for a reduction in public drug use which exposes the individuals as well as the public to risk. Furthermore, the risk of injecting substances with unknown components almost disappears, as the drugs will then be synthesized in medically-controlled settings and administered in measured doses to prevent any overdose as they work on slowly weaning individuals off the given substance. This therapeutic approach of treating addiction as an illness instead of as a crime will help to focus on actually reducing the problem at hand.

Ríordáin explained the societal pressures that exist surrounding the issue, saying, “Too often those with drug problems suffer from stigma, due to a lack of understanding or public education about the nature of addiction. This stigma can be compounded for those who end up with a criminal record due to possession of drugs for their own use. Addiction is not a choice, it’s a healthcare issue. This is why I believe it is imperative that we approach our drug problem in a more compassionate and sensitive way.”

Ireland is being ambitious, to say the least; however, this is a bold first step in beginning to approach the question of drug legislation as a medical concern calling for more research, treatment, and rehabilitation instead of trying to increase our prison population. The idea might not be as radical as it seems. If we truly want to be honest about combating drug addiction instead of the individuals suffering from addiction, it’s time we start treating it as a medical condition instead of as a criminal offense.