Government plan for medicinal cannabis labelled "hugely restrictive"

The Oireachtas Health Committee is discussing the Cannabis for Medicinal Use Regulation Bill this morning

The Health Minister’s proposed medicinal cannabis access programme has been labelled “hugely restrictive and totally unworkable.”

The Oireachtas Health Committee is discussing the Cannabis for Medicinal Use Regulation Bill this morning.

The bill has been put forward by People Before Profit (PBP) Deputy Gino Kenny – a long time proponent of easing the restrictions on the use of medicinal cannabis.

Speaking before the hearing this morning, Mr Kenny said the PBP bill is “based on best scientific and expert evidence” and can provide relief to patients with serious illness and pain.

He said the alternative proposal from the Minister for Health Simon Harris would be a “regressive step because it would not provide access for huge numbers of people who would benefit from cannabis for medicinal use.”

Deputy Kenny joined Cork mother, Vera Twomey on her march across the country last month to demand access to the drug for her seven-year-old daughter who suffers from a rare form of epilepsy.

He said there are currently five other EU countries that have adopted legislation similar to that which he is proposing - as have countries such as Canada, Australia, and a number of states in the US.

“We fail to understand why the model in other EU countries - giving wide access to medicinal cannabis but properly regulated, as proposed by our Bill - appears to be opposed by the government,” he said.

Cannabis Access Programme

Earlier this year, Minister Harris announced that he would establish a Cannabis Access Programme based on the recommendations of a review undertaken by the Health Products Regulatory Authority (HPRA).

The review called for the access programme to be made available to patients with:

  • Spasticity associated with multiple sclerosis
  • Intractable nausea and vomiting associated with chemotherapy
  • Severe, refractory (treatment-resistant) epilepsy

The minister has tasked an expert panel of doctors with drawing up a set of guidelines on how medicinal cannabis can be prescribed in Ireland.

Minister Harris said that under current legislation there is “no legal barrier” blocking him from granting an individual licence for access to cannabis when recommended by a consultant.

Scientific and expert evidence

Deputy Kenny said the minister appeared to be ignoring the “best scientific and expert evidence” presented to the committee.

“The Barnes report and the research of Prof David Finn shows there is good evidence, for example, in favour of cannabis for medicinal use being used to treat chronic pain, and yet the strangely Minister Harris proposes to deny access to the many thousands suffering with chronic pain,” he said.

“My only motivation is to have cannabis for medicinal use decriminalised for people who are suffering from illnesses such as chronic pain, MS, intractable epilepsy and other conditions.

“The [PBP] Bill is quite clear and explicit that access is for medicinal use only, and only when recommended by a medical professional.”

Deputy Kenny’s bill would establish a Cannabis Regulation Authority to oversee licence distribution as well as a Cannabis Research Institute.

The act would allow patients to access a legally protected, secure supply of a quality-controlled cannabis-based product where it is prescribed by a doctor.