Patients in Ireland are one step closer to legal medical cannabis after new legislation was signed into law.

The legislation, signed by Ireland’s Health Minister Simon Harris, will create the Medical Cannabis Access Programme on a pilot basis. According to Harris, the legislation will take “a little bit of time to fully establish the scheme,” so patients should expect to be able to access legal medical cannabis by the “autumn.”

Harris announced that Ireland was to establish a medical cannabis scheme over two years ago, but due to issues with finding legitimate suppliers to importing medical-grade cannabis medications, the legislation has only now been able to be signed into law.

Under the new scheme, access to cannabis medications of a regulated quality which meet the strict requirements laid out in the legislation will finally be facilitated.

Medical consultants are now permitted to prescribe cannabinoid-based treatments for their patients, so long as they have bene diagnosed with a qualifying condition:

Unfortunately, medical cannabis will only be offered as a “last resort.”

While there are no medical cannabis products currently available in Ireland, which has forced Irish officials to travel to Europe to find suitable providers, the new legislation has opened the door for commercial operators to supply medical cannabis to Ireland, so long as their products conform to the legislation’s strict requirements.

Suppliers hoping to capitalise on the emerging Irish medical cannabis market will have to apply to the Health Product Regulatory Authority (HPRA) to have their products considered for inclusion in the schedule of “specified controlled drugs.”

The purpose of this programme is to facilitate compassionate access to cannabis for medical reasons, where conventional treatment has failed.
Simon Harris, Ireland Health Minister

Successful applications will be granted a license by the HPRA, which will permit suppliers to possess, supply and import their cannabis products.

The legislation will grant pharmacists permission to dispense cannabis for medical use to patients under the new law. According to Harris, the cost of medical cannabis products will be the same as getting any other prescription in a pharmacy.

Discussing the launch of the Medical Cannabis Access Programme, Harris said:

“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.

“You will be assessed on the same basis – if you get the drug payment scheme you will be covered in that, if you have the medical card, you’ll be covered under the prescription charges, if you are on long-term illness, you will covered under that.

“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.”

Ireland’s step forward to widening access to medical cannabis for its citizens should be applauded, but it is important to remember this is only the first step of many for Irish patients.

Currently, there are only three qualifying conditions, with medical cannabis being offered as a “last resort.”

Medical cannabis should not be relegated to a “last resort,” only offered to patients after they have suffered for years undergoing traditional, often opioid-based, treatments.

Patients should not have to endure years of potentially life-threatening side-effects associated with pharmaceutical medications before they are offered medical cannabis, which is non-toxic and impossible to overdose on.

But a step forward is a step forward, and the introduction of a legal framework for medical cannabis products should be applauded.