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'Medicinal cannabis can be made available in Ireland early next year if a push is made by the department'

Officials travelled to Denmark to help sort out Ireland’s problem in sourcing medicinal cannabis last week.

Image: Shutterstock/Swapan Photography

Updated Nov 7th 2018, 2:51 PM

HEALTH DEPARTMENT OFFICIALS’ journey to Denmark last week to help sort out Ireland’s difficulty in accessing cannabis product for the new medicinal access scheme has been criticised by Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin today. 

It’s been nearly 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 and a supplier that can export its products to Ireland.

A statement from the Department of Health said that officials from the department recently visited Denmark for meetings with a number of government regulatory bodies and other stakeholders in the medical cannabis production and supply chain.

“The aim of these meetings was to hear about the Danish cannabis access programme and enquire if a supply of medical cannabis products could be sourced. Good progress was made on both fronts, but a continuous supply of product may still be problematical to find in the short term,” it said. 

Health Minister Simon Harris confirmed that officials from his department travelled abroad last week in order to assist with the difficulties in accessing cannabis product and to learn from the experience of other countries that have faced similar problems.

The minister said “huge progress” was being made in rolling out the scheme, but like many other countries that have decided to legalise cannabis for medicinal use, the issue of obtaining quality supply is challenging.

Reading a letter from the health minister into the record of the House, Martin said the department stated that it is aware that “a Canadian company is in discussions with an Irish-based distributor to supply their products to the Irish market”.

It adds that “no further details are available on the date of availability of these cannabis products and no import licence application has yet been sought by the Irish distributor to bring these products into the country”. Martin said an import licence application has not been made.

“This company supplies all of Europe and the bottom line is that someone needs to get moving on this. Officials going to Denmark and elsewhere is simply going off in new directions. We are two years on from the initial promise. The government must remember that many in this House co-operated constructively with the Minister for Health on this issue. The agreed approach was to set up a medicinal cannabis access scheme but progress has been too slow. This issue can be resolved.

“The product can be made available in Ireland early next year if a push is made,” he said.

The access 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.

Despite reports to the contrary, Harris confirmed that under the scheme medicinal cannabis CBD and THC will be permitted. 

The health department states that the difficulty it is facing is that only two countries, Canada and the Netherlands, currently permit export of such cannabis products, which meet acceptable quality control standards, beyond their borders.

The department said it is not aware that quality-approved medical cannabis products are available on the UK market.

The health minister said he or his department have no control in relation to business decisions taken by commercial product manufacturers abroad and has no powers to compel such companies to supply their products to Irish market.

The Netherlands permits exports of cannabis dried herb, but does not permit commercial export of their oil-based cannabis formulations. Therefore, medical cannabis oils can only be procured from the Netherlands by patients who present a valid medical prescription to an authorised Dutch-based pharmacy.

Until this is all figured out, doctors are operating under the current ministerial licensing route, which allows them to prescribe medical cannabis for their patients.

Licences have now been granted for twelve individual patients, the majority of whom are obtaining their medical cannabis from a Dutch pharmacy on foot of their medical prescription.

Until the access scheme is up and running, patients are forced to source the prescribed medical cannabis-based product from a pharmacy in the Netherlands.

As the months drag on, questions are now being asked about what the hold up is. 

Today, People Before Profit TD Gino Kenny will hold a press conference with parents who are campaigning for access to medicinal cannabis, including long time campaigner Vera Twomey.

Kenny states that his Cannabis for Medicinal Use Regulation Bill 2016 is currently under an effective embargo by the government despite the majority of the Dáil voting to pass the Bill.

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