A landmark decision to legalise medical cannabis in Ireland for certain conditions has gone largely unnoticed. Due to the coronavirus pandemic and a severe housing crisis, Irish media has barely covered the legislation passed on June 16th.
Under new regulations, patients in Ireland will be allowed to obtain medicinal cannabis through prescription for the first time. While certain medical cannabis products were legalised in the country a few years ago, this historic decision now means that patients will be allowed to acquire medicinal cannabis on prescription and be compensated for it by the state.
Patients will be given “reassurance” that their supply would be assured and “placed on a correct statutory footing, according to socialist MEP Luke “Ming” Flanagan, who added that legal issues had previously caused patients much anguish.
Who is allowed to access medical cannabis in Ireland and how will they do it?
Currently, the Medical Cannabis Access Program (MCAP) still only allows patients with a limited range of illnesses to participate. Thus far, only three chronic and debilitating illnesses fall under the remit of the scheme.
The new MCAP will allow a medical consultant to prescribe a listed cannabis-based medication for a patient under his or her care who has failed to respond to conventional therapies for the following medical conditions:
- Treatment-resistant epilepsy
- Severe nausea related to chemotherapy
- Spasticity related to multiple sclerosis
Criticism that more neurological conditions, including chronic pain, have not been included
The new scheme has been met with mixed reactions from many Irish parliamentarians. While some praised the scheme as a starting point other legislators have claimed it does not go far enough in positing cannabis as a viable treatment option.
Eugene “Gino” Kenny, a member of parliament for the Dublin Mid-West constituency and a long-time campaigner on the topic was critical that the program does not yet include those suffering from chronic pain. He urged the Irish government to broaden the scope of the offer to include this as well as a wider range of neurological diseases.
Last month, a disabled father of four from Bantry was prosecuted for the possession of a negligible amount of cannabis he uses to treat pain caused by severe osteoporosis. As a former heroin addict, Peter Lee blasted Ireland’s prohibitive drug laws and the Irish healthcare system’s over-reliance on opioids to treat chronic pain.
Legislation labels cannabis treatment as a last resort
More criticism was levelled at the legislation for stipulating that “all other avenues of treatment must be explored before pursuing medical cannabis.” Some parliamentarians have warned that this posits cannabis treatment as a last resort rather than a viable treatment option for people living with serious illnesses.
Additionally, despite the prescription scheme which offers reimbursement for medication, patients will still have to pay expensive consultants fees to obtain a medical cannabis prescription.
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The new MCAP program has been largely ignored by Irish media
The final enactment of this legislation has gone largely unnoticed by the Irish media, most notably the broadsheets. This could be in large part due to Covid-19 coverage. However, widespread coverage in early May of a report from the College of Psychiatrists of Ireland (CPsychI) could indicate a more conservative bent in Irish media when it comes to cannabis laws in Ireland.
CPsychI issued a report describing cannabis as the “gravest threat to the mental health of young people in Ireland today”. It also stated that the “widespread conception among the public that cannabis is harmless” could have potentially “devastating” effects.
Whether this is true remains to be seen, but the new MCAP ruling is a landmark piece of legislation that some people believe will pave the way for further progressive reform on cannabis regulation.