If the day comes when cannabis laws are changed here and its use is accepted, many enthusiasts and activists alike will reflect on the years and the paths that led to that day. Most will rightfully look at their own experience, if any, within the activism movement.
For many, those who were either not born, to young to recall it, or it simply passed them by, then one year is arguably the most vital, but often forgotten, in the history of Irish cannabis activism. That year is 1997.
During 1997 I was 11 turning 12, so I was one of those too young and unaware as to what was happening. In the following years I would come to know of the individuals from this time and be inspired by them. Then even later on, I would have the privilege to meet and work with some of them.
When one thinks of cannabis activism in the Irish context, there is one name that will come to mind, Luke ‘Ming’ Flanagan. In fact it might be the only name people know of.
Yet in 1997 when Luke first arrived on the scene, he was not alone. Two other openly pro-cannabis candidates calling for reform were on ballot papers across the country.
Olaf Tyaransen, now (and then) a journalist and author, stood as a candidate in the Dublin constituency of Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown.
While Dr. Tim Murphy, then a law lecturer in UCC, stood in the Cork South Central constituency.
Following a chance meeting backstage at the Late Late Show, Olaf and Tim became friends and subsequently agreed to launch the cannabis legalisation party.
Olaf and Tim filed the relevant papers and got everything else in order but weren’t allowed official recognition for the party.
Ivana Bacick, a current Labour Senator and herself a long time advocate of cannabis law reform raised their concerns in 1997, but to no avail.
For context it is worth noting that at around this same time in the UK, the Legalise Cannabis Alliance stood candidates including Howard Marks, though without success. So within these two islands at the time there were similar events unfolding.
Luke, Olaf, and Tim were not working in tandem. However due to their common cause, and the proximity of Luke and Olaf, both from the Galway area, it was often portrayed that they were.
In fact Olaf and others seemingly found Luke’s campaign a little too colorful. Many probably still find Luke a bit too colorful. Olaf and Tim were attempting a more straightforward approach according to Olaf, and were presenting themselves in suits.
Meanwhile Luke had adopted the nickname ‘Ming’, and with his eccentric appearance was seen as a caricature candidate by many.
None of the three were elected that year and neither Olaf or Tim would stand again. Luke who out polled both Olaf and Tim would begin his political journey with that election.
Sadly the cannabis legalisation party never amounted to anything more than an aspiration, though not without Olaf and Tim trying.
Interestingly there are a number of links from these events in 1997 and to the present day.
The obvious one is Luke ‘Ming’ Flangan, who would go on to become a Councillor, then a Mayor, then a TD and is now an MEP. He put forward the Cannabis Regulation Bill in 2013, and has been vocal on the issue ever since he emerged on the scene.
Olaf Tyaransen continues to work as a journalist and author, including for Hot Press Magazine, a publication which supported Luke’s Cannabis Regulation Bill in many ways. Olaf has also continued to speak out on the issue of cannabis regulation.
In 2011 Tim Murphy’s former university UCC became the first university with a Students For Sensible Drug Policy Ireland chapter.
1997 was a pivotal year, and as with any moment in history there are many what if’s that one can ponder.
For instance if the cannabis party had launched, what path would activism had taken in the country?. Had either Olaf and Tim contested more elections would we be further ahead with reform? What if Luke had decided like Olaf and Tim never to stand again?
But these are all just hypothetical scenarios, perhaps best saved for a chat over a legal joint in the future.
What arguably is a fact is that when the history of cannabis in Ireland is being assessed by future generations. 1997 is a year that will stick out for many reasons, and arguably because it was the genesis of the cannabis activism scene.
A number of items here are referenced from this 2011 article by Olaf called ‘Ming and Me’ which is worth a read
If you remember any of these events from 1997 or have any thoughts then feel free to comment below