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The medicinal cannabis bill passed through the Dáil last year, but now it's on the shelf

The Bill which passed through the Dáil has effectively shelved following a damning report.

Image: AP/Press Association Images

A POLITICAL ROW is heating up over the fate of Solidarity People Before Profit’s medicinal cannabis bill.

The bill – which aims to make it legal for doctors to prescribe cannabis for medical purposes – was introduced to the Dáil by Solidarity PBP TD Gino Kenny last year.

It passed through the Dáil to the committee stage when the Fine Gael minority government didn’t oppose it.

Since then, however, the bill has been effectively shelved following a damning report from the Joint Oireachtas Committee on Health which was subjecting the bill to pre-legislative scrutiny.

The Joint Health Committee was examining the bill before it was formally passed onto the Select Health Committee for debate and consideration.

The Joint Health Committee held two hearings in April on the matter.

Its final report – which was released in July before the end of the last Dáil term – identified a large range of issues with the bill and recommended that it not progress any further.

Solidarity PBP TDs are furious that the bill is not advancing to Committee stage, and have called for the report on it to be debated and voted upon in the Dáil.

Raising the issue with the Taoiseach in the Dáil on Wednesday, Solidarity-PBP TD Richard Boyd Barrett asked for an update.

Boyd Barrett criticised the Joint Health Committee for what he said was its failure to take on board the advice of relevant experts – including the opinion of the Irish Medical Organisation and experts in the field of medicinal cannabis.

He called for the bill to be brought back to the Dáil in order to be voted on by TDs.

Varadkar said that the committee had voted democratically to decide that the bill should not progress any further and that whether or not it came back to the Dáil was a procedural matter.

The Bill and the report

The Cannabis for Medicinal Use Regulation Bill 2016 passed through the Dáil on 1 December when the government chose not to oppose it.

The bill would allow for the legalisation of cannabis for medicinal purposes. It proposes the establishment of a Cannabis Regulation Authority which would manage and licence the sale of cannabis for medicinal use.

The bill also contains provisions for cannabis to be prescribed by general registered doctors and for cannabis to be removed from the Misuse of Drugs Act.

The Joint Health Committee report is strongly critical of the bill on multiple grounds.

It states that the establishment of a Cannabis Regulation Authority would undermine the current framework for regulation for medicine in Ireland. As things stand, new medicines are regulated by the Health Products Regulatory Authority (HPRA).

The report also criticises the provision around removing cannabis from the Misuse of Drugs Act, saying that this could have “unintended policy consequences” like decriminalising cannabis in non-medicinal circumstances.

It also says access to cannabis would be too loose under the bill, meaning that it could be potentially harmful for patients.

Finally, the committee notes that an approach is already being considered by government over medicinal cannabis under existing laws. A HPRA report published in January found that there was insufficient evidence for its benefits to prescribe cannabis generally.

The approach whereby cannabis could be prescribed by a medical consultant in a controlled and monitored manner for a limited number of clearly defined medical conditions is already being pursued by government.

The Joint Health Committee recommends that this approach be continued and that. It states that due to the large number of issues, the Solidarity People Before Profit Bill should not progress any further.

So what happens now?

Solidarity PBP roundly rejects the Joint Health Committee report.

The party states that the committee ignored the recommendations of a number of professionals when it came to considering the bill.

The party said that it would welcome amendments to the bill which could be debated and voted on if the bill was allowed to progress to committee level.

However, it said that not allowing it to progress to committee level would be “undemocratic” and party members have objected to the findings in the report.

The Joint Health Committee’s report will be considered now by the members of the Business Committee (which decides matters relating to business and the agenda within the Dáil).

Committee members will then decide either to accept the report or reject the findings.

If the report is rejected, the bill will proceed to the Select Health Committee (which is unlikely to happen).

If the report is accepted, then it is likely that the matter will be brought back in front of the Dáil for a final motion and vote, which could spell the end for the bill.

Richard Boyd Barrett said that he hoped a debate would be facilitated at Dáil level if this situation arose, but that he wasn’t certain.

According to TDs familiar with the situation, the bill’s status is unprecedented in Irish politics.

For a bill to pass through the Dáil but get rejected at pre-legislative scrutiny, then for that rejection to be challenged is something that rarely (if ever) happens in Irish politics.

“We’re very unhappy with the recommendations of the Joint Health Committee,” Richard Boyd Barrett told TheJournal.ie.

Boyd Barrett said his party would be circulating evidence and testimonies to the Business Committee members as a “rebuttal” to the Joint Health Committee’s report.

“Two things can happen now. Either the Business Committee lets [the bill] go forward or it accepts the report and the a motion comes back to the Dáil to be voted on,” he said.

Obviously we will be arguing that it proceeds onto committee stage and that the [Joint Health] Committee report should not be able to stop it.

Read: Health authority recommends medicinal cannabis to be made available for “specified conditions”

Read: Green light: The medicinal cannabis bill will be passed by the Dáil tomorrow

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