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'Ireland is behind the times': Should cannabis be legalised for medical use?

This week, Bríd Smith tabled a Bill calling for the use of cannabis to be permitted for sufferers of illnesses such as Multiple Sclerosis and cancer.

“IRELAND IS BEHIND the times,” said the People Before Profits/Anti Austerity Alliance TD Gino Kenny when speaking about his Bill to legalise cannabis for medicinal use.

This week, Bríd Smith tabled the Bill on behalf of her colleague in the Dáil, calling for the use of cannabis to be permitted for sufferers of illnesses such as Multiple Sclerosis and cancer.

It calls for the establishment of a Cannabis Regulation Authority and for distributors to be licensed.

This isn’t the first time a TD has called for cannabis use to be regulated.

MEP Luke Ming Flanagan tabled a motion in 2013 when he was a TD for Roscommon.

However, the makeup of the Dáil was a lot different back then and it was defeated by 111 votes to eight. Several TDs who are opposed to legalising the drug, including the Minister for Health at the time, James Reilly, referred to it as a ‘gateway’ drug to more harmful substances.

“That is a bogus argument,” said Kenny, who also pointed out that permitting cannabis for medical use and legalising it across the board are two separate debates.

shutterstock_401932171 Shutterstock / Ksu Shachmeister Shutterstock / Ksu Shachmeister / Ksu Shachmeister

“Someone in pain would do anything to take away that pain. We should not criminalise those that use it for that purpose. I think there is a huge groundswell of support with the public to allow cannabis to be used for medicinal purpose, for people with serious illnesses, like MS and cancer,” he said.

Speaking in the Dáil this week, Smith spoke about cannabis oil being used by people with Dravet syndrome, a severe form of epilepsy generally found in children.

“Really what we are trying to do is to facilitate the use of cannabis and cannabis-related products for medicinal purposes. These would be the ones that are already experimented on and would clearly have to be subscribed by a medical practitioner, particularly by a consultant.”

She told “I know from living in Ballyfermot that many MS sufferers already obtain cannabis oil to give them relief. This isn’t anything shockingly new.”

People Before Profit Alliance National / YouTube

In the era of ‘new politics’ and with many more independents in the chamber, both TDs think there might be a shot to get this through.

“With this Dáil, we might have a chance of getting it over the line,” said Kenny.

“I am getting good feedback from some TDs on it. It’s been very positive so far. I am hopeful we have a chance this time. It is allowed in a number of places around the world such as a number of the states in the US and there is more medical evidence for it now, than ever before,” said Smith.

“I would be confident enough that people will support the Bill, but I think it is great that we will get the opportunity to debate the issue before the end of the year,” said Kenny.

“People with these terrible illnesses, who are in such terrible pain should not be criminalised, it’s as simple as that,” he said.

So, how will other political parties react when the legislation is debated further during private members’ time. It’s unclear.

shutterstock_313444226 (1) Shutterstock / Africa Studio Shutterstock / Africa Studio / Africa Studio

Earlier this year, asked the political parties about their stance on cannabis, with some touching on the issue of it being used for medical reasons.

The previous Drugs Minister Aodhán Ó Ríordáin said last year that the government was keeping the matter “under review”.

25/3/2014 Political reactions to Callinans resignation Laura Hutton / Photocall Ireland Laura Hutton / Photocall Ireland / Photocall Ireland

That position has not changed. A statement from Fine Gael reiterated that the party and the Department of Health are keeping developments in relation to cannabis-based medical products under review.

We are aware that cannabis for medicinal use has been legalised in some countries and that there have been several studies internationally on the therapeutic effects of cannabinoids for a number of medical issues.
In July 2014, the Misuse of Drugs Regulations were amended to allow for certain cannabis based medicinal products to be used in Ireland.
Subsequently the HPRA granted a marketing authorisation for a cannabis-based medicinal product which is indicated for the relief of certain symptoms for people with multiple sclerosis.

At the time of Flanagan’s Bill, Fianna Fáil told us it supported legalisation for medical purposes, but not in any other circumstances. asked Fianna Fáil this week about whether they would support the AAA/PBP Bill.

Fianna Fáil Spokesperson on Health Billy Kelleher said:

I haven’t yet fully studied this Bill, but I understand it stems from the Deputy’s meetings with very specific interest groups.
The misuse of drugs regulations were amended two years ago to allow for certain cannabis based medicinal products to be used in Ireland. Following this, the Health Products Regulatory Authority granted a marketing authorisation for a cannabis based medicinal product which relieves certain symptoms for MS sufferers.
If this path was followed then we would have no difficulty with cannabis based medicines being prescribed to alleviate suffering.

Kelleher said he understands the Bill proposes a cannabis regulation authority.

“I’m uncertain if this is actually required as the Health Products Regulatory Authority is currently tasked with regulation of medicines for health purposes.”

Sinn Fein’s spokesperson on drug policy, Jonathan O’Brien, has gone on record as saying he favours decriminalisation for personal and medicinal use.

If AAA/PBP managed to woo the support of Fianna Fáil, Sinn Féin and some independents, who knows what might happen. However, if Fine Gael calls in Fianna Fáil support to shut it down, then that will be it.

On the other hand, could this cause another split in Cabinet? During the debate on Flanagan’s Bill, the current Minister of State for Trade and Skills John Halligan said:  ”I am not against decriminalising cannabis.”

However, he did not go so far as saying he was in favour of it either, but said there should be a “mature debate” on the issue. He also hit back at Fine Gael, who criticised the Independent Alliance for supporting Flanagan’s Private Members Bill and allowing it to be debated.

Just last month, the Super Junior Minister for Disabilities, Finian McGrath told Hotpress magazine that he would lean towards the Portuguese model, where the possession of small amounts of narcotics has been decriminalised.

When asked specifically by the publication if he was advocating decriminalisation, he replied: “Yes. I would be in that zone.”

Whatever the outcome, Kenny said he is looking forward to debating this issue further.

What do you think about this one? 

Should cannabis be legalised for medicinal use? 

Poll Results:

Yes (8308)
No (641)
I don't know (197)

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