Ireland’s Minister for Health, Simon Harris, has signed a legislation that allows its Medical Cannabis Access Programme to operate on a pilot basis. The pilot scheme, which will make medical cannabis available to qualified patients, will run over the course of five years.
Two years in the making?
It has been over two years since Harris announced plans to establish a medical cannabis access program. The announcement came after the Health Products Regulatory Authority did an examination into the drug and suggested that cannabis-derived products be made available to patients who have epilepsy, multiple sclerosis, and chemotherapy-induced nausea.
However, there have been delays due to problems finding a quality assured cannabis supplier who will export cannabis products to Ireland.
The delay had resulted in clashes between the administration and the opposition.
Moreover, no medical cannabis products are currently available in Ireland. This is why officials at the Department of Health had to travel to other parts of Europe to consult with initial suppliers.
In March this year, the government confirmed that they have found a medical cannabis importer who will supply Irish patients with the products they need. There were talks that the bill that would finally get the scheme up and running was going to be signed off before the summer.
What is the medical cannabis access pilot scheme about?
Basically, the pilot scheme will facilitate patients’ access to medical cannabis products. It will ensure that these cannabis products are of standardized quality and meet the requirements that have been outlined in the legislation.
With the scheme now approved by the health minister, medical consultants will now be able to prescribe cannabis-based treatments to their patients who have failed to respond to conventional treatments.
So far, there have already been 16 patients who were granted licenses to take cannabis oil to treat their conditions.
Patients who are qualified to avail of medical cannabis treatment should have these specific medical conditions:
- spasticity associated with multiple sclerosis
- severe, refractory (treatment-resistant) epilepsy
- intractable nausea and vomiting associated with chemotherapy
Potential suppliers will now be able to apply for government assessment. Their cannabis products will be assessed to see if these are suited for medical use.
So what now?
The signing of the legislation means that cannabis producers and commercial operators whose products have met the specified requirements will now be able to supply the Irish market.
Prospective suppliers can apply with the Health Product Regulatory Authority for their products to be included in the schedule of specified controlled drugs.
For businesses to possess, supply, or import these cannabis products, they will need a controlled drug license. This license will be processed and granted by the HPRA.
Harris said that with the signing of the new law, he expects suppliers to make applications to supply the agency with medical cannabis.
Once there is supply, pharmacists can already dispense cannabis for medicinal use to qualified patients.
According to Harris, the cost of getting medical cannabis will be the same as getting any other prescription in a pharmacy.
He explained that patients will be assessed on the same basis, where if they get the drug payment scheme, they will be covered in that. So, those who have the medical card will be covered under the prescription charges, and those who are on long-term illness will also be covered under that.
As for the cost for the State, Harris said that it is a matter that the government will have to talk about with suppliers.
When asked whether Ireland would someday grow its own medical cannabis, Harris said that he has a very open mind about it and that his gut is telling him that it should.