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Simon Harris says Ireland may own its own medicinal cannabis supply in the future

The legislation to underpin the medicinal cannabis scheme is due to be signed off on in the coming weeks.

Health Minister Simon Harris says he has an open mind about Ireland growing its own medicinal cannabis.
Health Minister Simon Harris says he has an open mind about Ireland growing its own medicinal cannabis.
Image: Eamonn Farrell

HEALTH MINISTER SIMON Harris has said Ireland could own its own medicinal cannabis supply in the future. 

In the most recent episode of The Explainer podcast, TheJournal.ie spoke to Harris about whether Ireland would one day grow its own medicinal cannabis. 

He said he has a “very open mind” about Ireland doing so, stating that his “gut feeling is [that] it should”.

The minister went one step further, indicating that the State or the public health service might end up owning its own medicinal cannabis supply. 

“I don’t necessarily think it would have to be a matter of Big Pharma, it could be well be that Ireland Inc would decide to own its own supply and that the public health service could own its own supply, or indeed that existing state companies and the likes could decide to diversify into this space,” he said. 

Supplying cannabis to Ireland 

“Who wants to supply medicinal cannabis to Ireland?” – that is a question Harris said the government is now asking. He added there are companies that are involved in the industry interested in doing business with Ireland.  

The minister said he will “very shortly” sign off on the legislation that will underpin the medicinal cannabis access scheme. 

If Ireland does end up growing and selling its own supply, could the country be a hub for medicinal cannabis in Europe?

“Yeah, maybe. Is that a questions for me or the Minister for Agriculture, and where does that fit with government and the public sector? I certainly wouldn’t rule it out, but my priority as health minister is to ensure Irish patients can access something that some European countries have been able to,” said Harris. 

Currently, only a handful of Irish people have been granted a ministerial licence to be prescribed medicinal cannabis. However, with no medicinal cannabis available in Ireland, families and their loved ones are forced to travel abroad to fill their prescriptions. 

At their own expense, many families travel to pharmacies in the Netherlands or Canada to get medicinal cannabis. 

Under the new medicinal access scheme, which is not yet up and running, families will be able to obtain medicinal cannabis from an approved supplier. Earlier this year, the Department of Health signed off on a commercial supplier to import medicinal cannabis into Ireland. 

If you look at our access programme, it will be seen as pretty progressive. I think it is very much in line with what seems to be best practice in a number of European countries. Of course you will also have people argue that it could go further, that you could provide this for a broader range of conditions, but when you are in my position, I think it is important to follow the medical evidence.
What I would like to do is set up the access programme, be able to do something we have never been able to do in this country before and track the progress. This is not a formal clinical trial but in many ways, it will have similar benefits where at the end of a period of time we will be able to see what X hundred people or X thousand people in Ireland used medicinal cannabis, here is the outcome, so what have we learned in terms of potential benefit of cannabis for certain conditions.
I think that could be quite exciting because at the moment this is quite a new area, an area where a lot of people have views on cannabis medicinal and otherwise but there isn’t a huge amount of evidence that has been gathered. I know that is what is certainly happening in Denmark, they are signing up and their progress, their health journey is being recorded so we actually have a well of information at the end.

The scheme has been delayed for over two years due to the government’s difficulty finding a quality assured supplier for the medicinal products. 

Once the legislation is published, certain cannabis-based products may be imported for supply through the scheme. 

Cultivation of cannabis

The Department of Health said in a statement to TheJournal.ie that its policy to date has not permitted the cultivation in Ireland of cannabis for medical purposes and no licences have been issued for this activity.

However recent developments on access to cannabis for medical use, in particular the Health Products Regulatory Authority’s (HPRA) report, Cannabis for Medical Use – A Scientific Review, may prompt a review of this position in the future, it stated. 

The HPRA has updated its guidance document to provide new information on how applications should be made under the new legislation and details how to apply to import, distribute and supply cannabis products. 

In this week’s episode of The Explainer podcast, TheJournal.ie takes a look at whether Ireland could grow its own medicinal cannabis. 


Source: The Explainer/SoundCloud

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