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Cannabis Risk Alliance

Anti-cannabis group 'only discussed language' around medical programme with junior drugs minister

The Cannabis Risk Alliance met with Frank Feighan last year.

A GROUP OF anti-cannabis doctors say they did not raise specific concerns about the Government’s medical cannabis programme when they met with the junior drugs minister last year.

The Cannabis Risk Alliance said that it only briefly raised the use of language around the Medical Cannabis Access Programme during a meeting with Minister of State Frank Feighan in January 2021.

The alliance comprises 20 GPs, psychiatrists and other medical experts who have raised concerns about the use of cannabis in recent years including a high-profile letter in the Irish Times which claimed that Ireland is “sleepwalking” into more liberal drug laws.

Earlier this week, it emerged that the group privately met with Feighan, who has responsibility for the National Drugs Strategy, to discuss with him their concerns about “escalating cannabis harm in Ireland”.

The agenda for the meeting, seen by The Journal, claimed that the media is overlooking the harms of cannabis and that the term ‘medical cannabis’ in the Medical Cannabis Access Programme should be avoided because it “misleads the public”.

Campaigners questioned why the group had access to Feighan to discuss drug policy when those advocating for a different approach have found access more difficult.

However, despite also outlining the importance of “full transparency regarding funding and conflicts of interest” among advocacy groups in its agenda, the Cannabis Risk Alliance did not have to record their own meeting or correspondence with Feighan on the Lobbying Register because they do not have a full-time employee.

A spokesperson for the group has since said that the alliance sought advice when they formed on whether or not they are required to register for lobbying purposes.

However, a statement said the group was told it did not have to do so because it was discussing a public health issue and has no employees.

The spokesperson also said the group “raised no concerns about the provisions” in the Medical Cannabis Access Programme when it met Feighan last year.

“The use of language when discussing cannabis based products for medical use was briefly mentioned. The title of the Medical Cannabis Access Programme was highlighted as a concern,” the spokesperson said.

“We raised no concerns about the provisions in the programme. The group believes that the title unwisely uses the phrase ‘medical cannabis’.

“This term does not feature in the guidance documentation prepared for doctors but the fact that it does appear in the title of the programme supports the false perception that cannabis must be harmless and was something of a propaganda coup for those parties who are trying to minimise the medical risks associated with cannabis use.”

The spokesperson also claimed that cannabis-related hospital admissions and what it calls “cannabis addiction episodes” have escalated significantly in recent years.

“The general public seem completely unaware of these facts,” a statement added.

However, other experts have questioned how these statistics are calculated.

Dr Garrett McGovern, a GP specialising in addiction medicine, said last week that he has encountered patients who are sent to him because they were found with a small amount of a drug such as cannabis, even if they have no addiction whatsoever.

He described this as a ‘box-ticking’ exercise as part of their probation.

“I see people in the course of my work that don’t have an addiction to anything, they were just caught with a small amount of something and were sent out to me,” he said.

“It’s laughable, they come and see me and they don’t meet the criteria for dependents.”

He added that this is a waste of time and money, and takes an appointment away from a person who is actually addicted to drugs and needs his help.

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