The Irish medical cannabis movement began in full force in the late fall of 2016, when lawmakers met late into the night to push a bill to allow doctors to recommend cannabis. The bill, put forth by a lawmaker from the People Before Profit party named Gino Kenny, would make it to committee and mark the furthest point forward the Irish medical cannabis movement had pushed their cause.
Three weeks after that night in Dublin, Tristan Cahalane became the first person in Ireland to be legally allowed to use medical marijuana via the direct authorization from the office of Health Minister Simon Harris. Like many Americans in the same predicament, the Cahalanes had spent the year prior as medical cannabis refugees in Colorado seeing great results in Tristan’s treatment. But Tristan’s mom Yvonne said the process was rough.
“Oh absolutely [it was frustrating]. None of this is rosy or plain sailing. You get two steps ahead and then you get a step back. We consider it continuous progress because there’s always been something. If we hit a bump in the road at least we knew that maybe that wasn’t the road to take. We were [re-routed] in another direction and that was fine,” she told a local radio station, explaining the ordeal. “But, it has definitely taken a year, because there was no such thing as an application process before we left [for the U.S.].”
Two months later, Harris would announce the formation of a compassionate access program for cannabis products. Following a report from the Health Products Regulatory Authority, Harris said they would allow access to medical cannabis on a case-by-case basis. The first set of conditions that would be allowed were multiple sclerosis and epilepsy, and nausea during chemotherapy.
Kenny’s bill is still the best hope for Irish patients, while the effort faded in committee with a slew of recommendations for the next round, hopes are high. Kenny’s efforts and the patient-activists who have backed his efforts have resonated strongly in Ireland, and in fact, changed the conversation as a whole.
Last month, Kenny had the chance to question Harris on the developments around the guidelines of the program over 2017. Kenny spoke of the tale of one man who couldn’t even get a prescription for Sativex, the original corporate medical pot, and the mystery of what Harris’s office is actually looking for.
“This also brings into question the cannabis access program for which the minister has set up guidelines,” said Kenny, in public comments before the minister. “The minister has said this numerous times in here about guidelines, but there are no guidelines, there is no program, and if the minister can actually say when the guidelines are coming out because obviously, people are waiting for this problem.”
Harris defended himself. “In relation to access to medical cannabis, I’ve now signed five licenses to provide patients,” he said, “Every valid application that’s been received by me has been signed and it has been processed in an efficient manner. In relation to the compassionate access program, you’re correct, there has been great progress in the clinical guidelines, they are being drawn up. The issue now is trying to source the product.
Kenny chimed in, questioning the minister’s claims of guidelines. Harris rebutted that guidelines were only of use if we could access product. Harris said his department was now working on finding a product so Irish patients could benefit.
The world’s leading student drug policy group, Students for Sensible Drug Policy, is taking part in the important grassroots effort backing the bill. SSDP got involved when Irish students worked to bring California cannabis pioneer Valerie Corral to the city of Cork for a talk. That was the first time SSDP met Gino Kenny and Vera Twomey, whose daughter Ava has become one of the most prominent faces in the nationwide discussion.
“After the event, Gino said he was going to do some research — he got back on to us several weeks later and was ready to run with us,” said Fergal Eccles, a member of the SSDP Chapter at University College in Cork, in comments to Cannabis Now.
From there, Eccles and his fellow student activists organized a series of talks around the country with Twomey, Tom Curran and some leading researchers which included members of some of the largest medical cannabis businesses in the world, such as Tilray and Bedrocan.
“At this point, momentum was really growing,” said Eccles. “We got word that the bill was being fast-tracked after a series of very large media hits.”
What amazed Eccles the most about this time was seeing the older community of his county becoming cannabis activists to stand behind one of their own. “We have a large sense of community in Ireland and the thought of a mother being denied life-saving medicine for her child stirred a huge amount of people,” he told Cannabis Now.
Eccles said the activists tried to appeal mostly to medical regulators and practitioners with a series of talks, but as they continued their efforts, the conversation only grew across the country.
“In some senses, the movement went quite national and out of the hands of student activism, which was of course, our goal,” said Eccles. “Unfortunately, our government has been stalling the implementation of the cannabis bill using bureaucracy. Still, only a small handful of licenses have been granted. Ireland is one of the largest exporters of pharmaceuticals in the world, home to Pfizer and other large multi-nationals. This has certainly been the source of the large blockade to medical cannabis in Ireland — despite overwhelming popular demand and a largely left-wing and very supportive media.”
Eccles believes local activists will soon take their message across the Irish Sea.
“It seems to me that our role as activists is now on changing the scheduling of cannabis in Ireland, while we believe any real change to our policy will be as a result of policy shifts in both the UN but more so the EU, which has seen a number of large states enact progressive medical cannabis policies and also, recently, even the full decriminalization of drugs in Norway,” said Eccles.
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