Significant Months Ahead For Medical Cannabis In Ireland

By Brian Houlihan

Image being used on social media to show support for Gino Kenny’s bill

The next few months are significant ones for medical cannabis reform in Ireland. Tomorrow the Joint Committee on Health are discussing the matter. Gino Kenny’s bill which would regulate medical cannabis will be debated on December 1st. The Health Products Regulatory Authority will report to the Health Minister in January regarding the scientific evidence. Various public events are also taking place to garner political and public support for medical cannabis.

The following is a brief outline of what’s set to take place over the coming weeks and months.

This Thursday the Joint Committee on Health is due to discuss medicinal cannabis. The session is entitled ‘Examination of the merits of the licensing of Medicinal Cannabinoids’ and starts at 9am. The meeting is a public one so it will be available online to watch.

A number of individuals are set to speak before the committee:

  • Ms. Lorraine Nolan, Chief Executive of the Health Products Regulatory Authority (HPRA).
  • Dr. Colin Doherty, a consultant neurologist at St James’s Hospital.
  • Ms. Vera Twomey, a parent fighting for access to medical cannabis for her daughter.

Lorraine Nolan is the Chief Executive of the Health Products Regulatory Authority. The HPRA is the agency which regulating medicines in Ireland. The HPRA was recently asked to prepare a report on the scientific evidence in relation to medical cannabis.

Dr. Colin Doherty has spoken before about medical cannabis and epilepsy and should provide some valuable insight. The video I’ve linked to is from Epilepsy Ireland’s national conference.

Vera Twomey’s recent protests have helped put medical cannabis on the political agenda.

Interestingly last month the chair of the committee Dr. Michael Harty, an Independent TD for Clare, spoke out in support of medical cannabis. This statement of support may bode well for the session.

The next notable event sees Help Not Harm participating at a medical cannabis event at the European Parliament which features an array of doctors, activists and enthusiasts.

Event at European Parliament at which Help Not Harm are participating

The event takes places on November 30th and Help Not Harm’s Director Graham de Barra will be speaking on one of the panels and outlining the situation in Ireland. Luke ‘Ming’ Flanagan MEP, perhaps Ireland’s best known cannabis activist, will be chairing another of the panel discussions.

Below is the schedule for the event.

Panel 1: Areas of Treatment with medical cannabis / Medical Cannabis status in Europe and the world.

  • Alessandro Piccioli, Presentation of the EPRS Brussels study of the legal status of medical cannabis in the EU
  • Dimos Fotopoulos, OKANA vice president, Greece
  • Dominique Lossignol, Specialist in cancer and pain treatment who prescribes medical cannabis to patients, Belgium
  • Bertrand Rambaud, Président de l’Union Francophone de Cannabinoides dans la médicine, France
  • Giorgos Oikonomopoulos, ELEFSYNA,

Panel 2 — Best Practices in other countries / Difficulties and Perspectives

  • Dr Franjo Grotenhemen, President of the International Association for cannabinoids in medicine, Germany
  • Μaja Rodic, President of World Hemp Congress, Slovenia
  • Graham De Barra, Help not Harm, Ireland
  • Carola Perez, Observatorio Español de cannabis medicinal, Spain
  • Dr. Manuel Guzman, Observatorio Español de cannabis medicinal, Spain

Other guests and interesting individuals are expected to attend. Help Not Harm have also helped arrange for Vera Twomey to travel over and to present her case to those in attendance. This event will also be used to strengthen links with our European counterparts in the push for introducing medical cannabis in Ireland and elsewhere.

Dr. Cathal O’Sullivan, Gino Kenny TD, Vera Twomey, Ronan Gaynor and Tom Curran

Perhaps the most significant event ahead occurs on December 1st.

That evening Gino Kenny’s medical cannabis bill will be debated in the Dáil. In reality this is a continuation of the process, and is not the end as some consider it. In fact a vote on the bill may not occur on December 1st and indeed one maybe a few months off yet.

However, speaking to Gino and others there’s confidence the bill will move onto the next stage after December 1st. This would likely see the bill move to committee stage for further discussions and amendments. This process occurs with most bills before they go to the Dáil and Seanad for final votes of approval. The final step is when President Michael D. Higgins signs any such bill into law. So we still have quite a way to go before Gino’s bill becomes law, if at all.
 
Gino’s bill has helped stir discussions at a political level and also in the media. Even if the bill doesn’t pass, either in its current or an amended form, it maybe considered as a catalyst for the likely medical cannabis reform that lays ahead.

Another key event occurs at the start of next year, by which time we should know more about the status of medical cannabis in Ireland going forward.

Health Products Regulatory Authority

The Health Products Regulatory Authority (HPRA) is set to report on medical cannabis following a request to do so by the Health Minister Simon Harris. The HPRA has been asked to provide scientific evidence in relation to medical cannabis. The report is due sometime during January and should provide some valuable insight into how our medical cannabis laws might change, if at all.

Hopefully the HPRA will consider the excellent report recently released by Professor Michael Barnes in the UK which looked extensively at the medical evidence available The HPRA’s Chief Executive Lorraine Nolan is set to speak before the Joint Committee on Health this week so we may learn more on the HPRA’s view on the scientific evidence in relation to medical cannabis.

Whether Ireland introduces medical cannabis will finally be revealed over the coming weeks and months as the political process unwinds. Of course for the patients in need of medical cannabis the process cannot be undertaken quickly enough. For many individuals this is a matter of life and death. We hope the government acts in a quick and meaningful manner to resolve the issue. Help Not Harm will do all we can to ensure this happens.

A number of public events relating to medical cannabis will take place over the coming months. Make sure to follow Help Not Harm on Facebook and Twitter to keep track of all the latest news, including live updates as they happen.

Brian Houlihan is a Director of Help Not Harm which seeks to shift the emphasis of Irish drug policy from criminal justice to public health.