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Ming Flanagan: 'Our Minister for Health is like the God of the Old Testament - mean'

The Minister for Health has published a report announcing the programme for cannabis-based treatments. It doesn’t go far enough, writes Luke Ming Flanagan.

Luke Ming Flanagan

THE Minister for Health, Simon Harris, has released the Health Products Regulatory Authority (HPRS) report into medicinal cannabis. This report has been long awaited by many people in Ireland.

Over the last few months the issue of access to medicinal cannabis has hit the headlines; mothers such as Vera Twomey and Yvonne Cahalane have had to fight for what they know will work best for their children. They have tried the pharmaceutical options and have seen the results, or in certain cases the not so nice side effects.

Minister Harris could not be more mean spirited

He has taken the narrowest and most restrictive interpretation of the report and is now about to implement it in a fashion that will make it expensive, lengthy and difficult for those who need it most. Sick people with difficult situations will have to jump through hoops to have access to medicine.

His approach brings to mind the practice of plenary indulgences. In days gone by those who could afford to, could buy forgiveness. If you had the cash you could buy your way out of sin. A plenary indulgence, bought from the church, guaranteed that the right men were saying prayers on behalf of your soul.

Now it appears that one will need to pay expensive experts to present your case to the HSE in order to gain medicinal cannabis. The grandly named “compassionate access programme for cannabis-based treatments” smacks of plenary indulgences all over again.

Paying through the nose for a natural herb

From what has been outlined by the Minister, it seems that those in need will have to hire expensive consultants to make their application. And all this is to gain access to a natural herb which is a cousin of the common nettle.

And that’s for those who are lucky enough to fall into a very limited range of ailments. Those who suffer from Parkinson’s disease or from chronic pain will find no sympathy in Ireland’s apparent progress. What about those in our community who suffer from arthritis?

The Minister states: “I believe this report marks a significant milestone in developing policy in this area.” Minister these are baby steps. What you claim as a significant milestone is a millstone around the necks of those who are left out of the HPRS’s very narrow list.

Plenty of evidence that cannabis works

The report states that “the scientific evidence for medicinal cannabis is insufficient and at times conflicting”. There is plenty of evidence out there that cannabis works for those with conditions such as chronic pain. Just go and ask the thousands of Irish people who use cannabis on a regular basis to relieve pain.

This “significant milestone” will leave those people as criminals. They will be forced to continue to source cannabis by illegal means. They will be supporting a criminal underworld. And no doubt some will end up with criminal sentences because of this very restrictive approach.

While the rest of the world is rapidly decriminalising cannabis and leaving people to make up their own minds about what is good for them, Ireland is taking the smallest possible steps to placate the public.

No doubt even these tiny steps would not have come about but for the efforts of campaigners and parents who have pushed this issue to the point where the Minister could no longer ignore the facts. If Vera, Yvonne and others had not pushed this issue would the Minister have made the “significant milestone” of his own volition? I doubt it.

Our Minister for Health is like the God of the Old Testament – mean.

Luke Ming Flanagan is an MEP.

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Luke Ming Flanagan

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