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Irish farmers 'could be given licences to grow cannabis in the future'

The Department of Health said it may review its policy given its difficulty in sourcing cannabis product.

The Department of Health said it may change its policy towards licencing farmers to grow cannabis.
The Department of Health said it may change its policy towards licencing farmers to grow cannabis.
Image: Shutterstock/Felix Broennimann

IRISH FARMERS COULD be given licences to grow cannabis for medicinal use in the future. 

The Department of Health told TheJournal.ie that while legislation currently prohibits farmers from growing cannabis, this policy could change. 

“Policy to date has not permitted the cultivation of cannabis for medical use and no licences have been issued for this activity.

“However recent developments on access to cannabis for medical use may prompt a review of this position in the future,” said the department.

It’s two years since Health Minister Simon Harris announced that a medicinal cannabis access programme is to be established, but as of yet no scheme has been rolled out. 

The delay is being blamed on the government running into problems finding a quality-assured supplier of cannabis that can export its products to Ireland, which is proving difficult. 

The planned programme aims to allow access to cannabis-based therapies for the treatment of patients with multiple sclerosis, those experiencing nausea and vomiting associated with chemotherapy, and those with severe, refractory and treatment-resistant epilepsy.

In December, the Irish Farmer’s Association told TheJournal.ie that it is open to meeting the health minister to discuss the possibility of farmers growing cannabis for medicinal use.

Availability of product

Harris has acknowledged that the “lack of availability of cannabis products in Ireland remains the most critical barrier to full implementation” of the medicinal access scheme.

In an interview with RTE’s Ear to the Ground programme, Harris first floated the idea of Irish farmers growing the drug.

This is not about recreational use and people smoking joints.This is about using in a controlled way, in a monitored way, with the support of your clinician, a product that could ease your pain and suffering after you’ve tried all the conventional treatments.
I think it could be an opportunity for Irish farmers in due course.

He added:

Does it make sense to grow your own in Ireland rather than be dependent on importing a product? I think, quite frankly, it does.

Harris said getting the scheme up and running would be a key priority for him this year. 

Growing cannabis

The Department of Health confirmed to TheJournal.ie that if farmers were to be permitted to cultivate cannabis a change in the law would be required. 

In a statement the department said that under current legislation, “the Misuse of Drugs Acts 1977-2016, and the Regulations made thereunder – it is an offence to cultivate, import, export, produce, supply and possess cannabis except in accordance with a Ministerial licence”.

“A related piece of Irish legislation, the Misuse of Drugs (Designation) Order 2017, limits the purposes for which such licences for cannabis can be issued, for example for forensic analysis or research – including research involving the cultivation of cannabis for use in approved clinical trials.”

At this time, the department’s priority is the “sourcing of suitable quality approved, affordable, finished cannabis products for medical purposes”.

The cannabis products must come from certified facilities that recognise internationally recognised quality standards.

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