Simon Harris needs to replace the Misuse of Drugs Acts 1977-2016 in its entirety and provide for the regulation of cannabis by 2020.

As a lawyer with 18 years professional practice experience, I have always viewed the campaign for regulation of cannabis as one which is fundamentally about law reform and civil liberties. Since time immemorial, lawyers have been in the vanguard of lobbying and campaigning for the reform of unjust laws. The Misuse of Drugs Acts is one such law that needs to be revisited in its entirety.

During the course of both my professional and academic career I have had to deal with the Misuse of Drugs Acts on many occasions, whether it was in the court room, the classroom, or indeed more recently attempting to amend the acts by virtue of the Controlled Drugs and Harm Reduction Bill 2017. In short I understand how it works, and at first hand I can tell you it is fundamentally flawed.

The Irish Misuse of Drugs Act 1977, was a copy of the equivalent UK Misuse of Drugs Act 1971 introduced by Reginald Maudling when he was Home Secretary. Unlike the UK provision which contained the classification system, the Irish provision included schedules (a table of controlled drugs which until recently could be added to by statutory instrument)

So in essence, the Irish Government effectively copied a questionable piece of legislation into Irish Law, localised it (poorly) and occasionally revisited it when required. What we now have is a cumbersome, outdated and poorly crafted piece of legislation which is not fit for purpose. Since its introduction, the Misuse of Drugs Act has completely failed in its original objective (if there was one) to reduce the supply of illicit drugs. Moreover, the legislation has contributed towards the growth of organised crime and the penalisation of people suffering from drug addiction. The arguments in favour of decriminalisation are strong, and the government in the National Drug Strategy has made it clear that they are open to the idea of moving towards a decriminalisation model. What they seem incapable of considering, or at least giving proper consideration to is a regulated system which accepts that not only does prohibition not work but they very law which governs prohibition has to be replaced in its entirety.

Given the developments that are taking place in North America regarding the Regulation of Cannabis both for medical and recreational use, the Irish Government are on notice that ultimately they are going to have to pursue a policy of Regulation. As we have said on this site on numerous occasions, the Government can only delay the inevitable. Therefore, it is not a question of ‘if’ the Irish Government regulates cannabis, only a question of ‘when?’ The problem in Ireland is that the Department of Health suffers from the legislative equivalent of ‘Jet Lag’ – their bodies are in a new time zone but their minds are stuck in the 1980’s. In truth the department is quite happy to do nothing for the time being.

But doing nothing or very little will not suffice.

So, it comes down to a simple issue, the Irish Government has to face reality and come up with a detailed plan to replace not only the Misuse of Drugs Acts 1977-2016 but also a plan to regulate cannabis both for medicinal and individual use. The arguments in favour are well  known (and don’t have to be repeated here)  leaving the medical issue aside, the case for Regulation makes strong economic sense. We have made it clear to the two main political parties in Ireland, Fine Gael and Fianna Fail that there is an illicit market which will not go away; a market which is worth roughly €1 Billion per annum. The existence of an illicit market provides no protection to children nor does it help vulnerable people such as Vera Twomey who are placed in an invidious situation, when it is clear that cannabis has strong medicinal value which helps patients with serious illness. We have pointed out that a regulated market will be worth €2.5 Billion to the Irish economy by 2025, generate 25,000 new jobs and contribute as much as €500 million in additional revenue to the exchequer per annum. Those figure cannot be ignored. But, notwithstanding the strength of our argument, reactionary elements within the Department of Health and special interests who are consciously forestalling progress in the mistaken belief that Irish Medical Consultants know best, when it is fairly obvious they don’t. The Government  as a matter of course, must dislodge itself from the orbit of those special interests who are not only holding back progress (for their own self-interest) but who also damaging the prospect that Ireland could become the Green Valley of the Regulated Cannabis industry in Europe, an industry set to be worth €230 Billion by 2025.

Fweed’s approach to regulation is clear and unambiguous. We believe in practical law reform that will help people at every level in society, but just as importantly generate huge economic returns for the state. Returns, which can be reinvested in our health and education systems in the same manner that regulation has resulted in huge windfalls for the states of Colorado, Alaska, and Washington. We have taken the view, from the outset, that the goal of regulation is realisable by 2020, and to that end we have sought to engage with the Department (and the government by extension) in a constructive manner. We will continue to do so, firm in the belief that our arguments are grounded not only in common sense, but also backed up by a growing body evidence that makes the case for regulation irrefutable.

We are under no illusions as to the challenges which the Minister for Health faces, in what is effectively the most challenging of political portfolios. We don’t believe that progress can be made by ‘cat-calling’ or directing negative invective against the Minister for Health, if anything that approach is counter-production and whereas it might suit those in the political arena from the left who wish to score points in challenging the Minister, our mission is persuasion. We have sought to open a constructive dialogue with the Minister and his officials in the Department of Health. We have a detailed plan to achieve regulation by 2020 that is realisable and workable. We accept that ‘political considerations’ play their part, but we also know as does the Minister, that ultimately regulation will occur at some future date. As aforementioned, it is not a question of ‘if’ regulation occurs but ‘when?’ We believe the time has come for the Irish Government to chart a clear and unambiguous course towards regulation. We are happy to assist in that endeavour by bringing to the table international expertise in the field of drug policy regulation, people who have and who are in the process of transitioning states and countries away from the failed policies of prohibition towards sensible regulation. Working in tandem with the Government we can make it happen.

Fweed is a corporate advisory and research firm that specialises in promoting the interests of the hemp industry for agricultural, medicinal, scientific and commercial use. We provide sound regulatory and commercial advice to clients in the hemp industry and serve as their interface with public representatives, regulatory bodies and government departments. We help our clients navigate the regulatory process, and influence domestic and international policy makers on matters relating to the hemp industry. We ensure that our clients are compliant with national laws and international conventions which place limits on the production, manufacture, distribution and sale of hemp and cannabis based products.

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How Ireland could become the European centre for the legal cannabis industry?

As The Green Wave spreads across North America, emerging legal cannabis companies are looking for opportunities abroad. No more so than in the huge European market which is set to be worth in excess of €250 Billion by 2025. One small nation on the periphery of continental Europe is ideally located to benefit from the global cannabis revolution; this of course depends on whether its conservative leaning government wakes-up to the huge economic benefits which a regulated cannabis economy can provide?

Over the last thirty years, Ireland has been very successful in persuading the world’s leading tech and pharma companies to locate their European headquarters in Dublin. Thanks to this far sighted policy, Dublin has become Europe’s silicone city. The Irish state through clever use of tax incentives and the availability of a young well-educated workforce has in the past managed to persuade the likes of Google, Facebook, Intel, Microsoft, AirBnB, LinkedIn and many others to centre their European operations in the Irish capital. This track record and expertise in persuading large tech to locate in Ireland is likely to intensify as the United Kingdom leaves the European Union. Brexit has provided Ireland with a golden opportunity to solidify itself as the location of choice for Silicone Valley’s overseas headquarters, and it’s this position which is enticing emerging legal cannabis companies to consider Ireland, and Wicklow in particular as their destination of choice for their European operations. Thus the gate is open for Ireland to become Europe’s Green Valley.

Of course, those who are familiar with the Silicone Valley story, know that the pot and tech economy have a strong symbiotic relationship having both grown out of California’s sixties counterculture. One need only think of the young Steve Jobs and Woz lighting up a joint as they worked in the garage in Los Altos back in the early 70’s to serve as one case in point.

Given that symbiotic relationship, it’s no surprise to learn that the illicit pot industry in Dublin has grown exponentially since the large tech companies arrived on the scene. Pot and Tech go hand in glove, as anyone in Silicone Valley will tell you. Indeed, many of the major tech investors such Peter Thiel (Co-founder of Paypal, and an early investor in Facebook) have quietly been investing in  fast growing cannabis corporations which are scaling up to meet demand in the eight states plus the District of Columbia that have regulated cannabis for recreational use, not to mention the 29 states that have legalised cannabis for medical use so far.

In the 18 months since I founded Fweed, public support for the regulation of cannabis in Ireland has grown. This is due in no small part to the tenacious campaigning of Vera Twomey who highlighted the shortcomings in Ireland’s approach towards medicinal cannabis. Twomey who has been locked in a very public battle with the Department of Health over access to Medicinal Cannabis for her daughter Ava, has connected with Ireland’s most important political constituency; the Irish equivalent of the ‘soccer moms’ who are are aged between 30-45 and who have the capacity to turn the scales in elections and referendums. A fact which is not lost on the major political parties and Irish government in particular.

But the change in perception towards cannabis is also due to the fact that the Irish public are better educated and observing what is going on across the Atlantic. Ireland’s connection with its North American diaspora is deep and long standing, which means that when Irish people visit the States and Canada, they witness at first hand the regulated markets for cannabis in Colorado, Washington, Oregon and ask the question, why can’t Ireland be the same? This is a question which the Irish Government has failed to address in a meaningful way beyond dishing out the same tired and meaningless platitudes which grew up with the war on drugs.

Regulation is the goal.

Unlike those who have advanced the case of legalisation for medical use only over the last year, Fweed has been consistent in favouring full legal regulation of cannabis and nothing less by 2020. Our case is based first and foremost on sound economic reason. We know the value of the illicit economy, and we know that prohibition has failed. What we want to achieve is a regulated economy that generates wealth, adds value to society and most importantly contributes to economic prosperity of the state and the people of Ireland. The illicit cannabis market in Ireland is conservatively valued at approximately €1 Billion, which is slightly more than the value of the illicit value of the equivalent market in Colorado prior to regulation in 2012. We forecast that a legally regulated market will be worth €2.3 Billion to the Irish economy by 2025 generating somewhere in the region of €250 million for the Irish exchequer annually. Presently, the illicit market generates no revenue for the Irish state and actually costs the Irish taxpayers millions to police which makes no economic or political sense.

Wicklowfornia and Europe’s Green Valley

Just south of Dublin, is Wicklow which is known as The Garden of Ireland. The Wicklow mountains are to Dublin what the Rockies are to Denver. It is also the centre of the Irish capital’s illicit market in cannabis with grow houses scattered across the foothills within easy reach of the city and away from the prying eyes of the Irish police. Popular with tourists and possessing some of the most expensive real estate in the country, North Wicklow provides the perfect location for North American cannabis companies seeking to locate their European operations. Wicklow is also the home constituency of Simon Harris, Ireland’s Minister for Health and the man who ultimately has to decide which direction Cannabis regulation should go in Ireland. Harris’s hometown of Greystones, which was voted LivCom’s most liveable community in 2008 also has Ireland’s highest concentration of tech millionaires in residence. Located 25km south of Dublin City on the coast, Greystones and the surrounding countryside has the infrastructure, the workforce and the enterprise culture to entice legal cannabis corporations from North America to set-up their operations in Europe.

As North America moves forward with The Great Marijuana Experiment, and legal cannabis companies consider overseas expansion, the Irish Government has to consider carefully whether they want to miss the boat, bearing in mind that the Netherlands will be competing against them for direct foreign investment from the emerging legal cannabis industry. Fweed has the expertise in regulation and the contacts in the legal cannabis and hemp industry in the United States and Canada to make Ireland Europe’s Green Valley, all that is missing is the political will to make it happen. It’s time for the Irish Government to get with the project.

Fweed is a corporate advisory and research firm that specialises in promoting the interests of the hemp industry for agricultural, medicinal, scientific and commercial use. We provide sound regulatory and commercial advice to clients in the hemp industry and serve as their interface with public representatives, regulatory bodies and government departments. We help our clients navigate the regulatory process, and influence domestic and international policy makers on matters relating to the hemp industry. We ensure that our clients are compliant with national laws and international conventions which place limits on the production, manufacture, distribution and sale of hemp and cannabis based products.

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A 21st Century Approach to Regulating Cannabis in Ireland

 
Back in November 2015, I attended a conference in Crystal City, Virginia run by the Drug Policy Alliance. At one of the seminars, I listened carefully as John Hudek from the Brooking’s Institute set out a 12 month timeline for the further legalization of cannabis in the United States. Of particular note, was his observations concerning California. He pointed out quite correctly that once California voted for legalization, then the whole of the western seaboard of the United States would have regulated cannabis for recreational use. For those of us in the United Kingdom and Ireland involved with progressing regulation, we could only look at these developments with envious eyes. We know that it’s no longer a question of ‘if’ cannabis will be regulated but ‘when?’. But when, remains the operative question. Whereas certain states and countries were moving forward, we were still at first base.

Once California voted for legalisation almost 12 months after the DPA conference, the tipping point as Hudek had predicted had been reached; this was notwithstanding the appointment of Jeff Sessions as U.S. Attorney General whose views on cannabis are antiquated to say the least. Although cannabis remains illegal under Federal Law, there is no going back to prohibition. To quote Ethan Nadelmann, the founder and former executive director of the Drug Policy Alliance ‘The toothpaste is out of the tube, and it’s not going back in.’.

In the last two years, the ground has shifted in favour of legal regulation of cannabis most notably at the state level in the United States. North of the border, Canada is leading the way and is to become the first G7 country to legally regulate cannabis for recreational use in 2018. Western European countries are lagging behind, though one suspects Germany is likely to become the 2nd G7 to go down that road having passed a law last January to legalise cannabis for medicinal use which came into force last March. Not resting on their laurels,German government officials are working behind the scenes to prepare for legal regulation of cannabis for recreational use in three years time. In other words the starting gun has been fired but some countries remain deaf to what’s happening? This leads me to Ireland.

In the last 18 months, Irish public opinion has began to move towards this new reality. This is due in no small part to the tenacious campaigning of Vera Twomey whose daughter Ava has Dravet’s syndrome.Twomey’s case has touched the heart strings of the most important constituency in Ireland, mothers between 25-40 who can and do swing general elections and referendums. Whereas in the past, Governments could have relied on the bulwark of conservative elderly voters to quash progressive measures, demographics have changed that dynamic. Ireland is growing up, and the Irish public are less inclined to be held back by conservative policy makers who are out of touch in the digital era.

Ireland is in a unique position to be in the vanguard of legal regulation in Europe, and could reap the enormous economic benefits which will come when the ‘Green Wave’ surges across the Atlantic as it inevitably will. Irrespective of what Jeff Sessions may think, prohibition of cannabis is on its last legs, and he is merely the boy with his finger in the dyke. But, he can only delay the inevitable. The same can be said for conservative policy makers in Ireland, who are not ignorant to what is happening in the United States and Canada. Although officially they might be saying that Regulation is not on the agenda, they are starting to listen.

There comes a tipping point when pragmatism takes over from the illogical dogma of the drug wars. That point is fast approaching. At Fweed, we have been clear from the outset that we believe in Regulation as the only sensible approach towards cannabis both for medicinal and recreational use. Our mission is to persuade the Irish Government to leave the failed policy of prohibition behind and embrace regulation. Below, we have set out clear and unambiguous policy goals for achieving a regulated market; goals which are both realistic, practical and achievable. We are under no illusions of the difficulties encountered by progressive policy makers in trying to move an historically conservative country forward, but change is in the air and regulation is inevitable.

Our Policy Goals


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    To persuade the Irish Government to pass legislation which regulates Cannabis for Medical, Scientific and Personal use by 2020.

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    To create a world class regulatory framework for the production, distribution and sale of cannabis and hemp based products.

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    To establish Ireland as the European centre for the Regulated Cannabis & Hemp Industries

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    To protect young people by keeping cannabis out of the hands of children.

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    To minimise the harms of use, and eliminate the illicit market for unregulated cannabis.

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    Keep profits out of the hands of criminals and organised criminal cartels

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    Reduce the burdens on police and the justice system associated with simple possession offences under the Misuse of Drugs Acts 1977-2016.

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    Protect public health and safety by strengthening, where appropriate, laws and enforcement measures that deter and punish more serious cannabis offences, particularly selling and distributing to children and youth, selling outside of the regulatory framework, and operating a motor vehicle while under the influence of cannabis.

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    Establish and enforce a system of strict production, distribution and sales, taking a public health approach, with regulation of quality and safety (e.g., child-proof packaging, warning labels) application of taxes, with programmatic support for addiction treatment, mental health support and education programs.)

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    Ensure the Irish public are well-informed through sustained and appropriate public health campaigns and ensure that risks associated with cannabis use are understood

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Rally for Ava

Photograph – Irish Times (c) 2017

Source: Broadsheet 22/03/2017

The following article appears on Broadsheet.ie – we’re reproducing it here to draw attention to this important rally which is taking place next Wednesday March 29th

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Next Wednesday, March 29, a protest will be held outside the Dáil in support of People Before Profit Gino Kenny’s Cannabis for Medicinal Use Regulation Bill.

The planned protest follows Vera Twomey’s walk from Cork to Dublin to highlight how her seven-year-old daughter Ava cannot legally access medical cannabis containing THC – the substance in cannabis which gives people a ‘high’ and is illegal.

Ava has Dravet Syndrome which causes her to suffer severe multiple seizures daily.

After walking to Dublin, Ms Twomey held a four-hour meeting with the Minister for Health Simon Harris, during which she was presented with several options.

On Sunday night, Vera explained what these options are in a Facebook live video and summed up where her family stands now.

She explained:

The first option that we were given was the public neurologist. Now the public neurologist has stated that she’s not going to support or oversee the overseeing of Ava’s care unfortunately.”

The second option would have been then the private neurologist who went to great lengths, I can only say great lengths to try and source an avenue for us to go down. We were offered the opportunity to travel to Canada – to meet with a consultant over in Canada who would prescribe and then possibly the overseeing of that could have gone on within Ireland. But I mean, unfortunately, for our family, our child is not stable enough – in spite of the fact that she’s made great progress – she’s not stable enough to go on a long-haul flight to Canada or anywhere else.”

Thirdly, the treatment abroad scheme was mentioned. The treatment abroad scheme again would obviously involve travel to some destination. It is not a possibility really for us, at this point, and then there was the question of the medicinal cannabis being an experimental treatment, I don’t know how accurate that is, that’ out.”

Four then, is the compassionate access programme which, I mean, I don’t whether you guys are as shocked as I am by this, but the consultants describe the compassionate access programme as completely unworkable and it’s not possible for any consultant to successfully put in an application for a patient because of the legal situation surrounding the THC part of the treatment. There won’t be any consultant, neurological or otherwise, from what I have been told by senior physicians that will be able to put forward this application, even if they wanted to.”

“Finally, the final option is legislation. So it seems that, after our meeting above in Dublin with Simon Harris and his people that the only alternative out there for people like us is to fight for legislation in this country because the neurologists are saying… and actually I feel very, I feel very sympathetic towards their situation because it is not the neurologists’ fault that they can’t prescribe this – it’s the law and it’s the law that has to change. And it’s the law that needs to change as urgently as possible.”

“I have to say to ye that I have a little girl here that’s badly, badly in need of help. And it’s a fright to god that there’s people on our own doorstep, there’s people all across Europe, there’s people all across the world getting access to medicinal cannabis for their families but that my child isn’t allowed to do that. That my child isn’t allowed access to something that’s, it’s a human right to have access to a medication to help your situation.”

“I would just like ye to know it’s very hard to come out on the computer like this and to be telling you all about it because I wish I had good news but I haven’t. And I just, I really hope lads that, you know, when it comes to the 29th of March, or when it comes to next month, or the month after that, that you won’t forget about Ava. Because we are really up against a very, very… we are up against the Government I think. And the whole thing is so wrong.”

“And I put up on Facebook, if you’d like to see it tonight, the Oireachtas report which was on a number of weeks ago where the HPRA were discussing the narrow guidelines and all the other information and the thing is: the evidence is out there. You know the evidence is all across Europe. It’s all across Canada, it’s all across the world: that medicinal cannabis works. But the Government don’t want to accept it. And I don’t know how we’re going to change it but just, would you please stay with us because, we really need the support of every one of ye out there or otherwise because I don’t think any of us are ever going to get what we need.

“Please, feel free to share this and please, if ye can, I know there’s buses and everything being organised all around, in different places but the protest, the peaceful protest above outside the Dail is on the 29th of March [Wednesday], it’s going to be at 5pm but if you want to be there earlier than that, I’ll be there anyway, I’ll stand with everyone above there, I’ll be proud to stand with everyone above there, for the sake of our families and I, again, just the endless support that we’re receiving, we really, really appreciate it. Thanks everybody.”

 

Ireland’s conservative jig towards medical marijuana…

 
Last November, Simon Harris the Irish Minister for Health asked the Health Product Regulatory Authority (HPRA) to carry out a review of the Republic’s policy on medicinal cannabis. The review was requested following the introduction of the Cannabis for Medicinal Use Regulation Bill 2016 Bill before the Irish parliament last July by Gino Kenny and Brid Smith, members of the extreme left People Before Profit party.

Perhaps the most startling thing about the Cannabis for Medicinal Use Regulation Bill other than the fact it was very poorly drafted (and largely lifted from the earlier Cannabis Regulation Bill 2013) is that it managed to survive the second stage of the Irish parliamentary process to reach the Select Committee on Health. How precisely this happened can be attributed in part to the fact that Ireland currently has a minority government, which is dependent upon support from the largest opposition party to pass legislation. It was into this ‘parliamentary gap’ that Kenny took a punt with the poorly drafted medical cannabis bill.

Few observers familiar with the Irish parliamentary process believed it had a chance. But this bill has not only managed to survive but actually gain traction

Kenny who was only elected to the parliament for the first time last year, is genuinely pleased with his good fortune, however if it were not for the tenacious campaigning of Vera Twomey whose daughter Ava Barry suffers from Dravet syndrome, the bill would probably have fallen at the first hurdle.

Twomey more than anyone has managed to capture the public’s imagination with her ‘never-say-die-attitude’ and in a short period of time has employed the same tactics which the civil rights movement used back in the 60’s to bring an end to segregation. People Before Profit were quick to jump on Twomey’s bandwagon, which recently included a high profile walk from Cork to Dublin to highlight her daughter’s continuing struggle to access medicinal cannabis in the Republic.

But some credit must also be given to Simon Harris, who at 30 is Ireland’s youngest Minister for Health. Harris who suffers from Chron’s disease, has kept his door open to Twomey when many of his predecessors would have slammed the door firmly in her face. Of course, behind the Minister is Ireland’s notoriously conservative and duplicitous Department of Health known for its sleight of hand tactics and who have a penchant for dampening down progressive initiatives when it doesn’t suit their routine. One of it’s emanations the Health Service Executive (HSE) is currently at the centre of yet another scandal involving the sexual abuse of an incapacitated girl while she was in foster care.

The report from the HPRA, the government quango whose function is to regulate medicines is conservative and selective in its approach to medicinal cannabis. Conservative because it recommends that treatment with medicinal cannabis should only be permitted under a controlled access programme for the treatment of patients with;

a. Spasticity associated with multiple sclerosis resistant to all standard therapies and interventions whilst under expert medical supervision;
b. Intractable nausea and vomiting associated with chemotherapy, despite the use of standard anti-emetic regimes whilst under expert medical supervision;
c. Severe, refractory (treatment-resistant) epilepsy that has failed to respond to standard anticonvulsant medications whilst under expert medical supervision.

The document goes onto say that ‘patients accessing cannabis through the programme should be under the care of a medical consultant and medical information and utilisation data should be kept on a central register. This will ensure accountability and will inform the future direction of access to cannabis for medical purposes. Clinical (patient) research should be facilitated.

Researchers who are familiar with the benefits of medicinal cannabis would immediately see through the conservative ‘jig’ the HPRA are engaging in. The document is also selective in terms of the research which the HPRA focused on

“evidence finds, at best, a moderate benefit for cannabis in a small number of conditions and conflicting evidence, or no evidence at all, in a large number of other medical conditions.”

Critics of the HPRA have been quick to point out, that the HPRA have relied too heavily on questionable research which has already been challenged successfully in other jurisdictions. Moreover the finger has been pointed at the HPRA for choosing to ignore research findings from Canada and Germany in particular.

The HPRA conducted a survey of 40 countries, 29 of which were its regulatory counterparts in the European Union (EMACOLEX) and globally through members of the International Coalition of Medicines Regulatory Authorities (ICMRA) to determine policies on access to cannabis for medical use. In total 40 countries were contacted, from which 28 responses from EU Member Countries and 7 outside the EU were received. Israel was included as a supplementary country which does not participate in either of the two groups mentioned above but which does have a large medical.cannabis programme.

It’s not clear who were the five countries that didn’t respond, but most likely Russia and Indonesia were among them. Curiously, the HPRA contacted China and Singapore two countries known for their hostility towards liberalisation of cannabis use. Under Section Seven of the Criminal Law of the People’s Republic of China, Article 345, individuals who smuggle, traffic, transport or manufacture narcotic drugs are sentenced to either 15 years of prison, life imprisonment or death, and suffer confiscation of property. Most people would know that Singapore has some of the most draconian laws in the world for dealing with drug offenders. Anyone who has ever read Singapore’s Misuse of Drugs Act would be under no illusions. Furthermore, in last year’s UNGASS conference Singapore restated its vehement opposition to any reforms to the Single Narcotic Drugs Conventions. Quite precisely, why the HPRA contacted two counties who have executed people for being found in possession of cannabis is anyone’s guess. At best you would it was stupid, but one cannot rule out that it was deliberate.

Political observers of the HPRA and the Department of Health, know that the former largely does the bidding of the later, and the Minister’s views are generally known when there is a ‘hot topic’ before them. And so the case is this, the Minister has a report, the report suggests making medicinal cannabis available to a limited category of patients, whilst ruling it out for people suffering from chronic pain and a variety of other conditions.

the report concludes by making the following observations

If a policy decision (Minister Harris and his special advisors decide) is made to facilitate access to cannabis for medical use, the following recommendations could be considered:

1. A five-year pilot programme that permits patients with the defined medical conditions (outlined above) to be treated with cannabis or cannabinoids prescribed by their doctors, under current legislation, should be conducted. Under the cannabis treatment programme:
–  A registry of patients, prescribers, and pharmacists should be established (a registry may be necessary to provide legal protection for possession).
 Information on the product prescribed, the medical condition treated, adverse events and the outcome of treatment should be collected.

- The registry should be subject to medical oversight, and report provided to the Department of Health on the numbers of patients, patterns of prescribing, and supply needs. A report at the end of the period would permit decisions to be made on future direction of access to cannabis for medical purposes.

- The annual national reports to the European Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drug Addiction (EMCDDA) will facilitate the tracking of problem drug use.

2. The pilot programme would allow patients to be treated legally with cannabis products within the healthcare system, and avoid the use of cannabis products that are subject to no regulation.

3. Legislation to support the cannabis treatment programme should specify the medical conditions identified above where cannabis can be used as a medical treatment, the doctors that can prescribe treatment (consultants with expertise in the relevant medical condition), and the permissions necessary to allow doctors to prescribe, pharmacists dispense, and patient possession. The legislation should identify the routes of supply and the required quality controls. It should also address labelling requirements and appropriate categorisation of cannabis products. It should outline the records that are required to be kept and the necessity for a patient register.

4. Dronabinol is an authorised medicine in other countries and is currently controlled in Ireland by the provisions of Schedule 1 of the Misuse of Drugs Regulations. To facilitate patient access, it is recommended that dronabinol is included in Schedule 2, this would place the medicine in a similar category to other authorised medicines including nabiximols and nabilone.

5. The defined medical conditions that could be treated with cannabis should be presented to the medical professional bodies, such as the Royal College of Physicians (RCPI) or societies, for review. The development of prescribing guidelines or training could be considered by the professional bodies. These guidelines could address the patient population suitable for treatment, taking into account:

- the age of the patient and their medical history (including active substance use, concomitant medical or psychotic disorder, cardiovascular or respiratory disease, whether they are pregnant or breast-feeding); and

- the type of cannabis product suitable for treatment (THC and CBD content).

The elements to be included in an education programme for patients could also be considered, such as the correct use of the cannabis for medical purposes, the benefits and risks involved, how to report side-effects, and the care and safe disposal of cannabis products.

6. A confidential survey should be conducted across patient’s organisations to determine the use of cannabis-based medicines with this information providing an estimate of the supplies required.

7. Clinical research into the safety, in particular the long-term safety and the effectiveness of cannabis for medical use, should be encouraged through facilitated access under the legislation, and targeted funding. The HPRA fully endorses clinical research with cannabis products to characterise their therapeutic promise, and will provide the necessary supports.

8. The HPRA working group should continue to review scientific developments in this area, and report to the Minister, as required.

Conclusion:

Conservative though the recommendations may be, it is start. But elsewhere things have moved on with Germany’s doctors being allowed to prescribe medicinal cannabis (without resort to a consultant!) since the beginning of March 2017. Before the German parliament (Bundestag) passed the new legislation in January, the only way for patients to use cannabis as a treatment was to apply and wait for special, individual approval – and the bar was set fairly high for those seriously ill. It seems that in Ireland, the conservative Department of Health, the HPRA and the medical consultants who have a strong vested interest in restricting access, are quite happy to play the game of ‘Paddy-Go-Slow’ much to the annoyance of Vera Twomey and other campaigners who favour a more progressive approach towards the medicinal use of cannabis. They seem to be ignoring developments in Canada, and Germany two more scientifically advanced countries that are even more rigorous when it comes to the licensing of medications than Ireland.

Minister Harris should make note that perhaps the Canadians and the Germans know better than the HPRA when it comes to regulating medicinal cannabis.

 

Inaugural meeting of the Irish Hemp Working Group

 
On the 15th December last, the first meeting of the Irish Hemp Working Group took place. Representatives from across the Hemp industry in Ireland met at 167 Capel Street to discuss areas of mutual interest. It was unanimously agreed by the parties present to establish an Irish Hemp Society. Representatives also considered the current state of Hemp production in Ireland.  The group discussed its shared knowledge of the Hemp industry and its relatively low starting base. There was general agreement that more information is required on (i) the quality of Hemp currently being produced in Ireland, whether seed or fibre, and (ii) the number of licenses granted in Ireland for the production of Hemp. There was also general agreement that the group should further discuss how it can engage with existing Hemp farmers in Ireland and also with the wider farming/ agricultural sector. The idea of organising a farmer survey was raised. A number of studies about Hemp production in Ireland were cited. There was general agreement that the group requires further information on these studies and their conclusions.

Another important area of discussion involved the potential organising a major showcase event in Ireland in 2017 taking the form of a Hemp Expo . Reference was made to the Berlin Hemp Fest and the World Hemp Congress in this regard. There was general agreement that the group requires further information on what has been done elsewhere to inform its decision making regarding this interesting idea, about which there appeared to be general support at this early stage. Potential timeframes for running such an event were discussed. It was suggested that November 2017 might be a suitable time, as it would suit tillage farmers, i.e. after harvest time. It was suggested that a trade fair in Dublin in 2017 would show Irish farmers, industry and the general public just what is possible from a Hemp economy. The Royal Dublin Society facility was suggested as a possible venue, particularly given its agricultural origins and purpose.

 

International Medical Cannabis Summit – Dublin

Mr Tjalling Erkelens – CEO, Bedrocan (Netherlands)

Dr Catherine Jacobson, Chief Scientist at Tilray (Canada)

Charlo Greene – The Charla Greene Show & Alaska Cannabis Club

Dr Ingo Michels – Head of the Office of the Federal Drug Commissioner, Germany

Fweedom Photocall – Tuesday 13th September at 10.30am

Next week is going to be an interesting one for Cannabactivists in Ireland. On Tuesday, the Fweedom campaign are having a photocall in Grand Canal Docks at 10.30am to promote awareness of the Cannabis for Medicinal Use Regulation Bill which is before the Oireachtas. We want to highlight the important medicinal benefits of cannabis in the treatment of Cancer, Multiple Sclerosis, Fibromyalgia, Dravet Syndrome and Glaucoma. We are looking for volunteers who will be willing to don the T-shirt and hold the sign showing their support for patients with serious illnesses who could benefit from a change in the law. Our mission is persuasion, a genuine desire to reform an unjust law that defies science, common sense and reason.

Ours is a sincere and genuine desire to change the law relating to cannabis for medical and scientific use as part of the Global campaign to end the war on drugs which has caused mass imprisonment and harsh punishments for non-violent offenders, many of whom have taken cannabis for medicinal reasons. You can play your part, and make your voice heard by giving 30 minutes of your time next Tuesday to help the Fweedom campaign.

Event: Fweedom Photocall.

Time: 10.30 am

Location: Grand Canal Dock, Dublin

Meeting place: Front of Bord Gais Energy Theatre.

Sowing The Seeds of Law Reform

Every lawyer knows, there comes a time in a case when the evidence is sufficiently compelling it can no longer be ignored. The facts metaphorically speak for themselves. This tipping point has already been reached in the debate over the legalisation of cannabis for medicinal use. The scientific evidence that cannabis has enormous medicinal value is compelling and the time has come to remove the restrictions placed on the plant by international conventions and domestic law. The evidence that cannabis has medicinal value now far outweighs any perceived harm. Consequently, if one were to apply an evidential standard of proof, namely the balance of probabilities, then the law should be changed. And yet, we wait for the Irish Government to take the initiative which so far it has failed to do.

It is now almost a year since the Government announced outline plans to decriminalise the possession of small quantities of controlled substances for personal use, following the lead taken by other jurisdictions, most notably Portugal which decriminalised in 2001. In the intervening period since that announcement, the nature of that Government has changed giving rise to a minority executive with a more conservative hue. Fine Gael, which forms the bedrock of this minority government, prides itself on being the party of law and order; and consequently its innate conservatism does not lend itself well towards issues of social justice especially where drugs are concerned.

Decriminalisation for those not familiar with the concept, is the process of removing criminal sanctions for possession of small quantities of illicit drugs under the Misuse of Drugs Acts 1977-2015. Critics of decriminalisation point out out correctly, that it does not remove criminality from the equation. In practical terms, decriminalisation would have no effect on illicit markets and the related ills of organised crime: violence, public disorder and imprisonment. Decriminalisation merely gives consumers the permission to purchase what the illicit market is prohibited by law from selling. It stands to reason that if decriminalisation occurs then the only benefactors will be those who control the illicit market, namely organised criminal gangs.

Therefore the only way to reduce the illicit market which has been outsourced to criminals is to provide a form of legal regulation; accepting in part that drug usage, like the use of alcohol and tobacco is a fact of life, whether you like it or not?

The Portuguese Solution

Historians familiar with the Irish state know all to well, that Ireland has a poor track record on matters of public health and social justice. On more than a few occasions in the past, progressive reforms have been ignored or delayed through a combination of inertia, ignorance and interference from vested interests whose own short-term pecuniary interests were at stake. Short-term decision making at the heart of government or to put it mildly, ‘Irish solutions to Irish problems’ have caused systemic harm to our public health system in the past. Decriminalisation, the option which is on the table, is not an Irish solution – it is a Portuguese one which has at least opened the eyes to many who did not realise that the policies of drug prohibition caused more harm than good.

Fifteen years after Portuguese embarked on decriminalisation, the Irish Government has belatedly decided that Portugal has a solution to a problem which is not unique to Ireland, but still a ‘domestic problem’ nonetheless. The Portuguese solution of course was not unique, the Netherlands in 1976 and latterly Switzerland had embarked upon decriminalisation of cannabis earlier.

However, since Portugal introduced decriminalisation the world has moved on. Decriminalisation is no longer the preferred or indeed the sensible option. In 2012, Colorado became the first of four states in America to legalise cannabis for recreational use, having legalised for medicinal use in 2000. In 2013, Uruguay became the first country to move towards legal regulation of cannabis for recreational and medical use, proactively moving away from the lunacy of global prohibition which had its origins in American race politics of the 1930’s. At the time of writing this article, twenty-five states in America have legalised cannabis for medicinal use, and from next year Germany the most scientifically advanced country in the Europe will allow patients to purchase cannabis buds in pharmacies and dispensaries. If Germany, which is governed by the Christian Democratic Union in coalition with the Social Democratic Party recognise the way forward, why is the Irish Government still dragging its feet? Both the CDU and Fine Gael belong to European People’s Party. Strange bedfellows indeed one might say.

The problem with Irish Governments is that they are not proactive. As aforementioned, despite the strength of evidence and best international practices relating to cannabis, the Department of Health continues to take an insular and parochial approach towards drug policy reform. If the past is anything to go by our government remains overly deferential to bodies whose own short-term pecuniary interests are at stake, such as the Irish Medical Organisation and the Pharmaceutical lobby. What the Irish Government needs to do, is take the lead and legislate immediately for the regulation of cannabis for medicinal and scientific use rather than wait for ‘domestic affirmation from Irish experts’, or merely throwing into committee what international experts in the world’s leading scientific research laboratories have already proven. To put it simply, the Irish Government does not need to reinvent the wheel or play pass-the-parcel with the lives of vulnerable people who are in need of medicinal cannabis.

Justice delayed is justice denied

Part of the problem with introducing reforms such as the ones we are suggesting, is that there still remains in Ireland a governmental impulse to control people, which is a hangover from a time when the state was overtly catholic in its mentality and disposition. This mindset runs contrary to the very essence of liberty and freedom of choice which are the foundation stones of modern plural democracies. Ireland is not alone in this respect, but that does not excuse the Government from perpetuating the culture of cannabis prohibition which flies in the face of science, common sense and reason.

A culture of deference and duplicity

In the past the Irish state has failed in one of its fundamental duties to uphold and vindicate the rights of its own citizens on matters of public health. One need only be reminded of the hepatitis C scandal, where at least 260 people died as a consequence of being infected with contaminated blood products, many of them haemophiliacs who were supplied with blood products sourced American prisons. The manner in which those victims were treated was appalling by any measure, and the reaction of the state can be attributed in part to political incompetence and callousness in the extreme. What is clear is that state will often protect the interests of the few to the cost of the many, which was unpalatable then and remains unpalatable today?

But if the hepatitis C scandal was bad, it pales in comparison to the wholesale institutional abuse of children in industrial schools and reformatories between the 1950’s-1980’s. Indeed, the Irish State permitted at least three experimental vaccine trials on children in these institutions in 1961, 1970 and 1973 respectively . In 2001, the Laffoy Inquiry (Also known as The Commission to Inquire into Child Abuse) established a specific division to look at the nature of those child vaccine trials, however that investigation was short-lived. Judicial Review proceedings were initiated in November 2003 against the order to establish the Vaccine Trial Inquiry. On 25 November, 2003, an undertaking was given to the High Court, by the Commission, that it would not conduct any hearings in relation to the matters within the ambit of the Order, until the matter was settled. The practical effect of this undertaking was that the work of the Division was suspended at that point and never re-commenced. Consequently, the true story of the vaccination of children in industrial schools never fully came to light much to the dismay of those who were its victims.

Both the Hep C and Vaccine Trials scandal remain a black stain on the conscience of the Irish State, one which needs to be exercised. Experts in the field of drug policy reform know that many of Ireland’s forgotten children, those who were subjected to horrific abuse in church/state institutions fell into drug and substance abuse in later years. Many of them were penalised under the Misuse of Drugs Acts for being found in possession of the substances they sought relief from to mask the pain caused in childhood. More than a few were prosecuted and imprisoned for the possession of and or cultivation of cannabis, a drug which has proven medicinal value in the treatment of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. The sad reality is that those prosecutions continue to this day.

Presently, we have an unacceptable position in Ireland where patients with serious illnesses, who would like to access medicinal cannabis cannot because of the restrictions which have been imposed under the Misuse of Drugs Acts 1977-2015 and the accompanying regulations. Notwithstanding, the strong scientific evidence which supports the therapeutic value of cannabis, the law precludes these people, our fellow citizens, from accessing medication which can treat illnesses such as Multiple Sclerosis, Dravet’s Syndrome, Jeavon’s Disease, Crohn’s disease to name but a few.

The Cause of Fweedom

We believe that ordinary citizens can make a difference if they are well-informed and well-organised. In Ireland, the law governing cannabis prohibition does not require a constitutional referendum to be changed. It merely requires a majority in the Oireachtas to pass a Regulation of Cannabis Bill for Medicinal and Scientific into law.

That possibility is not beyond the pale of reason, it just requires the political will to do so. But to make that happen, we started the Fweedom campaign to inform, to educate and to stimulate members of the general public into action. It is your voices that politicians and leading civil servants hear, the louder those voices the more they are heard. This democracy belongs to all of us, but it requires the foresight and the endeavour of small minorities often on the fringe to persuade the majority of the benefits of reforming the law in the interest of the common good.

Thankfully, international developments have placed cannabis reform on the political agenda, and the tipping point has been reached. The question remains thus, do our political representatives have the foresight to effect positive change, or do they wish the huddle in the failed policies of the war on drugs and the injustices which flow from it?

Fweed as an organisation does not advocate drug use, rather we accept as a matter of fact that people use and sometimes abuse drugs such as cannabis or indeed alcohol. We acknowledge that some people use cannabis recreationally and out of choice, whilst others use the drug out of necessity for medical purposes. It is people in this later category which the proposed Regulation of Cannabis (Medicinal and Scientific Use) Bill is designed to help; namely those people who due to illness find therapeutic relief in what cannabis has to offer. The law as it stands prohibits them from possessing or indeed cultivating a plant which researchers in some of the world’s foremost medical and scientific research centres have accepted as having therapeutic medicinal value. To treat this behaviour as criminal, which the current law does, perpetrates an injustice against the most vulnerable in our society, and therefore it is a matter which the Oireachtas must – in all good conscience address.

International developments such as the provision from next year of cannabis buds to patients with serious illness in Germany can no longer be ignored by Irish policy-makers. Whilst reticence and caution is understandable, inordinate and inexcusable delay is not. The Irish Government does not enjoy a monopoly on wisdom when it comes to drug policy, especially when the circumstances that gave rise to cannabis prohibition in the first place remain the controversial to this day.

The era of cannabis prohibition is coming to an end, our government like others can only delay the inevitable. Therefore it is not a question of ‘if’ cannabis is legalised for medicinal use, it’s now just a question of when? In which case, the sooner – the better. Remember no public representative wants to be on the wrong side of history.

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