Saturday, 18th November marked a historic moment in the progression of medicinal cannabis treatment in Ireland. The Department of Health approved a three-month licence for tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) for the treatment of severe chronic pain.

It was the second time such a license has been granted. Last year, 3-year-old Cork boy, Tristan Forde, who has a severe form of epilepsy, became the first person in Ireland to be legally allowed to use cannabis for medicinal treatment. The third time came just a few days later with the public announcement of long fought campaign on behalf Ava Barry from Cork who suffers with a severe form of epilepsy.

In light of this development, Prohibition Partners has developed this report to help better understand the medicinal cannabis legislation in Ireland and to provide some insight into the potential and opportunities of the medicinal cannabis industry.

 Yvonne & Tristan Forde -  Photo Credit

Yvonne & Tristan Forde - Photo Credit

In August this year, we reported that the Irish government was blocking the progression of a Bill aimed at legalising medical cannabis.

The Long and Winding Road of Legislation

A report published in February 2017 by Health Minister Simon Harris recommended that medicinal cannabis should be made available to those with specified medical conditions. The Cannabis for Medical Use Report makes eight recommendations, compiled by the Health Products Authority (HPA) stating that cannabis has potential therapeutic benefits but agrees there is a need for robust evidence from clinical trials.

 Minister for Health Simon Harris -  Photo Credit

Minister for Health Simon Harris - Photo Credit

Dr Michael Harty TD, who chairs the Houses of the Health Committee, described the report:

It is the Committee’s view that Ireland should pursue a balanced course of action in considering the merits of authorising the use of medicinal cannabinoids, and the recommendations contained within this report are made in that spirit.”

On the legislative side, the first Bill was put forward by Gino Kenny which sought to legalise medicinal cannabis treatments.

In July we explained to readers that the Bill had hit a roadblock. The government has clearly had a change of heart and tact, announcing in November, that it had agreed to allow the Private Member’s Bill to proceed to next legislative stage.

The Bill was intended to be shelved in July over concerns that it could “decriminalise the recreational use of the drug” but Mr Kenny has insisted politicians need to work together to get it across the line. Speaking in November after the decision to allow a second review he said:

"Political parties have stated that at their debate last week, we can work together, sit down and look at the things we agree on, some things we don't agree on and eventually come to some sort of consensus.”

"If it was not amendable, it would not have come to this stage."

 People Before Profit TD Gino Kenny (3rd from left) with Dr Cathal O’Suilliobhain, Mark Gaynor, from Galway and Vera Twomey, from Cork - Photo Credit

People Before Profit TD Gino Kenny (3rd from left) with Dr Cathal O’Suilliobhain, Mark Gaynor, from Galway and Vera Twomey, from Cork - Photo Credit

Minister of State at the department of Justice and Equality David Stanton said he was of the view that

"If you have a very flawed piece of legislation, it might not be possible to amend it; perhaps it should be redrafted and resubmitted".

Ireland has now, for the first time, granted a license to treat chronic pain with medical cannabis treatment. And though there has been some resistance to the original Bill advocated by People Before Profit, it will now be amended and put forward to the Health Committee for a second review.

These events mark a significant milestone for Medical and Political campaigners in the country, who suspect that public opinion is putting warranted pressure on the government to make a legislative change.

As the wheels of government turn in favour of legislative progress, Prohibition Partners takes a look at the opportunity for medical cannabis business in Ireland.

The Irish Opportunity

In addition to the climatological advantages, Ireland has historically benefited from EU trade agreements with regards to agricultural exports. With a history of agricultural experience and a wealth of grass-based agriculture farms, Ireland could have ideal conditions to develop a natural Pharmaceutical industry.

Ireland is a world-leading centre for the manufacture of pharmaceutical and fine chemical products. There is a substantial indigenous industry of over 100 companies engaged in pharmaceutical and chemical-related activities including the development and manufacture of human and veterinary medicinal products, development of enabling technologies, drug discovery and delivery, and contract services.

Lastly, Ireland has developed a network of Agriculture and Food Authorities in order to maintain high standards of the produce they export. Ireland is one of the world’s highest per capita exporters of beef and dairy. With such a dependence on agricultural and food exports, groups like the Food Safety Authority of Ireland (FSAI), Irish Farmers Association (IFA), Agricultural Consultants Association (ACA) and The Agriculture and Food Development Authority (Teagasc) are responsible for teaching and testing of Ireland agricultural labour force.

IrishLegislationTimeline Nov2017 (1).jpg

Hope for the future

Although medical cannabis can be available through prescription there appears to be a lack of organization and knowledge of the treatment in the medical community. The state claim that prescriptions will be reviewed but many consultants have no expertise in the use of medicinal cannabis. We spoke with Senior House Officer at the Irish Medical Organization, Dr. Hugh O’Marcaigh:

In terms of keeping up with developments, it’s up to the doctors to inform themselves and research emerging therapies and drugs. We get drug reps in but we don’t get any training on prescriptions of medicinal cannabis.”

We get a weekly presentation in the hospitals, but you will need a prominent consultant to take the reigns on medicinal cannabis treatments. Someone will need to spearhead a movement and take it upon themselves to run trials and experiments.”

Though Ireland is in a prime position to develop a prosperous bio-pharma and medicinal cannabis industry it appears there needs to be more cohesion and communication between medical groups and drug legislators. However, with growing public support for legal cannabis treatment and an abundance of biopharmaceutical experience, Ireland could develop a strong medicinal cannabis industry over the next decade.