More than two years ago, Health Minister Simon Harris promised to provide medical marijuana access to patients with certain debilitating conditions in Ireland. Yesterday, Harris finally signed a legal order that will establish a medical cannabis pilot program for the next five years. He explained that it will take “a little bit of time to fully establish” the scheme, as supply couldn’t be imported into the country until the law was signed today.
Why has it taken so long to get medical marijuana legislation passed? There were quarrels in the Dáil, the lower house of the Irish legislature, in regards to finding a supplier that could export products that were high quality and maintained certain standards. Fortunately, in March of this year Irish officials confirmed that a supplier had been found and expected the bill to move forward by early Summer.
The medicinal marijuana access scheme will authorize a medical professional to prescribe a cannabis-based treatment for patients with very specific medical conditions, where the patient has failed to respond to alternative treatments methods. These conditions are:
Spasticity associated with multiple sclerosis
Intractable nausea and vomiting associated with chemotherapy
Severe, refractory (treatment-resistant) epilepsy
After signing the legislation Health Minister Harris explained that, “It is important to state that there are no plans to legalise cannabis in this country. The purpose of this programme is to facilitate compassionate access to cannabis for medical reasons, where conventional treatment has failed. Ultimately it will be the decision of the medical consultant, in consultation with their patient, to prescribe a particular treatment, including a cannabis-based treatment, for a patient under their care.”
Now that it’s official, cannabis suppliers can submit their products for assessment to be considered for medical use. There is huge potential for cannabis brands to have their products included in the medical marijuana access program in Ireland. Health Department officials had to venture to Europe to find a supplier that checked all the boxes, because there are currently no cannabis products produced in Ireland.
Producers and manufacturers only have to meet certain requirements to be introduced to Irish medical marijuana patients. Cannabis companies can apply to the Health Product Regulatory Authority (HPRA) to have a product considered for inclusion in the schedule of ‘specified controlled drugs’.Once approved, the HPRA will issue a supplier license to possess, supply, and import these products to be sold qualifying medical marijuana patients.
Pharmacists will be filling these medical cannabis prescriptions and the actual cost will be on par with other medication prices. Harris noted that, “You will be assessed on the same basis – if you get the drug payment scheme you will be covered in that, if you have a medical card, you’ll be covered under the prescription charges, if you are on long-term illness, you will be covered under that.” The government will be responsible for covering some of the cost for these cannabis imports, but this is something that will be negotiated with suppliers.