Cannabis is a medicine that relieves pain, but not in Ireland. No way.

Peter Reynolds – “Mr Pot” – has been campaigning for cannabis reform in the UK and Ireland for decades. He is a member of Patients for Safe Access Ireland, Chair of Cannabis Industry Council (Ireland) and on the advisory board of the Irish Medicinal Cannabis Council

In Ireland, over 90 per cent of people support the use of cannabis for medical purposes and, remarkably, almost 40 per cent support legalisation for recreational use. So cannabis is very popular indeed. (Poll by Red C, May 2021). Irish citizens spend a great deal of money on cannabis, at least €200 million per year, and possibly three times as much.

All but a tiny fraction of this cash goes into the pockets of criminals. Some of these dealers are just friends of friends, but move a step or two up the supply chain and they are gangsters and organised criminals. What they earn from cannabis goes into funding far more serious criminal activity, with violence never far away. And the largely futile efforts to stop the cannabis trade costs Irish taxpayers around €300 million. (See ‘Statistics on the Irish Cannabis Market’).

Although the Medical Cannabis Access Programme (MCAP) started in July 2021, short of an outright ban, it is the most restrictive medicinal cannabis programme anywhere in the world.

It has resulted in a pitifully small number of prescriptions, less than 50 at the latest count, and around another 100 patients have been able to access medicinal cannabis under the Ministerial Licence Scheme. The result is that the vast majority of people who need cannabis as medicine are accessing it on the criminal market.

In my experience, resistance to the medical use of cannabis by the medical establishment is stronger in Ireland than almost anywhere else in Europe. It is this that has led to a ‘lame duck’ access programme.

There is huge public demand for access – based on increasing recognition of the value and safety of cannabis, but MCAP has been sabotaged by a medical establishment that is hostile to cannabis, and officials who have refused to take expert advice, preferring the opinions of clinicians who know nothing about it.

The problems started with a report compiled by the HPRA early in 2017 described as from an ‘expert working group’, yet not one person in the group was an expert in cannabis. It’s not clear that any of them had any knowledge at all about the use of cannabis as medicine when they were appointed.
The report is full of errors and misunderstandings.

It claims there is ‘an absence of scientific data’ on the efficacy of cannabis, and not enough information on safety. This is palpable nonsense. History records cannabis being used as medicine for more than 5,000 years, and ironically, it was an Irishman, William Brookes Shaughnessy, who published the first scientific paper on it in a medical journal in 1843.

Since then it has been one of the most studied medicines on the planet. It has over 26,000 references on Pubmed, the foremost source for medical literature, whereas paracetamol has around 12,000.

California has had a medicinal cannabis programme since 1989, the Netherlands since 2001, and its use is now widespread throughout the world. Millions of people are using medicinal cannabis safely and effectively. There is a vast amount of information and evidence available.

The most glaring error in the report is the omission of pain as a condition for which cannabis should be available. Pain is the condition for which cannabis is most often used, and is most effective. In 2020 the global medicinal cannabis market was valued at around $9 billion, this is expected to reach $47 billion by 2027, and over 60 per cent of this is for treating pain. Yet the HPRA’s so-called ‘experts’ thought it best to leave it out.

The systematic opposition to medicinal cannabis is demonstrated by active hostility to MCAP. In the spring of 2021, as part of a research project for the Irish Medicinal Cannabis Council, more than 70 contacts were researched and identified at the Department of Health, the HPRA, the HSE, hospitals, medical training organisations and professional medical bodies. Each contact was sent a short email requesting ‘what protocols, training, guidance, policies or other steps have been taken to prepare for the implementation of MCAP?’

Not one respondent was able to confirm that any action had been taken at all. More seriously, a number of reports were received concerning major Dublin hospitals where patients were refused information on MCAP, and told that if they raised the subject again they would be removed from their consultant’s list.

Responsibility for this situation lies squarely with the Department of Health and HPRA. It is matched by their corresponding failure to facilitate a medicinal cannabis industry in Ireland. In Europe, the market for medicinal cannabis and CBD will be worth over €20 billion within the next five years, and Ireland is way behind every other country in the EU. At least a dozen serious proposals have been presented – offering multimillion euro investments – but all have been blocked.

The truth is there is systematic, organised opposition to any progress at all levels. MCAP is a policy designed to fail, and current policy on illegal use supports the gangsters’ business model – actually making cannabis more easily available to children.

There is a secretive cabal of senior Irish clinicians who lobby against cannabis. They use arguments about children smoking illicit, high-strength, street cannabis as a reason that very sick people shouldn’t be able to use it as medicine. In fact, they say boldly and unapologetically that ‘cannabis is not medicine’ when north of the border, across the sea in the Great Britain, and throughout the EU, hundreds of thousands of patients are prescribed cannabis by their doctors and gain great benefit from it.

As seen in minutes disclosed under an FOI request, this cabal of clinicians has told minsters that anyone who lobbies them on cannabis must disclose it, and yet they have failed to disclose their own activity. Even so, ministers have flatly refused to meet anyone else who wants to put the other side of the argument.

Cannabis is not harmless. There is no medicine, nor any recreational drug that is. Most are far more harmful than cannabis, including common painkillers, alcohol and tobacco. While Irish psychiatrists can speak of nothing except the tiny risk of mental health problems (a non-existent risk in medical use), in the UK, consultant psychiatrists are prescribing it for depression, anxiety, PTSD and other mental health disorders.

The misleading influence of these senior doctors is what makes cannabis a dirty word throughout government, where ministers and officials just refuse to discuss the issue. The current review of MCAP is being conducted behind closed doors, in secret, without any opportunity for patients, representative groups, the industry, or independent scientific experts to contribute.

The new drugs minister, Hildegarde Naughton TD, appointed over three months ago, has so far refused to engage at all with patient or industry representatives. It is hoped that the Citizens Assembly on Drugs Use, which is just getting underway, may bring forward a more intelligent, evidence-based approach. However, the early signs are very worrying.

The appointment as chair of Paul Reid, former chief executive of the HSE, is a strange choice. Implicit in the Assembly is an expectation of change, yet Mr Reid is closely associated with and concerned in the development and implementation of current policy.

His first action was to call ‘information sessions’ on March 28 – without announcing them publicly – and so most patient, industry and advocacy groups were excluded. Also, that same day he announced an ‘Advisory Support Group’ which consists exclusively of conservative, establishment figures, most extraordinarily Professor Mary Cannon, a psychiatrist with an international reputation as an anti-cannabis campaigner who regularly asserts that ‘cannabis is not medicine’. There are no drugs policy experts within the group, nor anyone representing patients with experience of medicinal cannabis.

Nevertheless, the Citizens’ Assembly remains the best hope for everyone seeking a more rational, evidence-based approach to cannabis and all aspects of drugs policy. As I write this, advocacy and representative groups from all over Ireland are preparing, and if they are afforded the opportunity that they should be, then the members of the Assembly itself will hear real world evidence and testimony that it is hoped will result in a positive outcome.

Statistics on the Irish cannabis market
According to the 2019–20 Irish National Drug and Alcohol Survey, 20.7 per cent of 15-64 year olds have consumed cannabis in their lifetime, and 7.1 per cent report recent use – that’s nearly 300,000 people. Cannabis valued at €15.2 million was seized by Gardaí in 2020.

Based on research carried out in the UK, adjusted pro rata for population size, the value of the cannabis market in Ireland is estimated at a minimum of €225 million and possibly as much as €675 million. It is costing the Irish State a great deal of time and money in law enforcement costs. Drug offences account for 11 per cent of all recorded offences and of these nearly 69 per cent are for personal possession, most of which are for cannabis. With a €3 billion budget for justice in 2021, drug law enforcement would appear to cost around €330 million, most of which is for cannabis.

Read more here: Source link

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *