Ireland to legalise cannabis for specific medical conditions

Patients with multiple sclerosis, severe epilepsy, or undergoing chemotherapy could be given drug despite safety fears

Ireland is set to legalise the use of cannabis for treating specific medical conditions, after a report commissioned by the government said the drug could be given to some patients with certain illnesses.

The Irish health minister, Simon Harris, said he would support the use of medical cannabis “where patients have not responded to other treatments and there is some evidence that cannabis may be effective”.

The report said cannabis could be given to patients with a range of illnesses including multiple sclerosis and severe epilepsy, and to offset the effects of chemotherapy. “I believe this report marks a significant milestone in developing policy in this area,” Harris said. “This is something I am eager to progress but I am also obligated to proceed on the basis of the best clinical advice.”

Last November, Harris asked Ireland’s Health Products Regulatory Authority (HPRA) to examine the latest evidence on cannabis for medical use and how schemes to facilitate this operate in other countries.

The study found “an absence of scientific data demonstrating the effectiveness of cannabis products” and warned of “insufficient information on [the drug’s] safety during long-term use for the treatment of chronic medical conditions”.

“The scientific evidence supporting the effectiveness of cannabis across a large range of medical conditions is in general poor, and often conflicting,” it added.

However, it added that any decision on legalising use of cannabis was ultimately for society and the government to make.

Harris said he wanted to set up a “a compassionate access programme for cannabis-based treatments” and was now considering any changes in the law needed for its operation.

The new medical cannabis scheme will run for five years and will be constantly monitored by Irish health service experts.

The big policy shift came in the same week that the Fine Gael-led coalition in Dublin backed the idea of a “safe injection” room for heroin addicts in Ireland’s capital.

The Temple Bar Company, which represents bars, clubs, restaurants and other businesses in the cultural-entertainment quarter on the south bank of the Liffey in Dublin, expressed opposition to locating any of the injection centres in or close to the tourist district.

The Temple Bar chief executive, Martin Harte, said businesses in the tourist centre collected 1,500 syringes from the streets around the area every year.

“We are bracing ourselves for an increase in the level of syringe disposals and related antisocial behaviour,” he said.

“Addiction centres make no provision for what happens outside of opening hours … The Temple Bar Company is not opposed to tackling issues with drugs in Ireland, but we are opposed to proposals that exacerbate and fuel an injecting epidemic in Dublin city.”

Last year, Aodhán Ó Ríordáin, the former Irish Labour party junior health minister, became the first politician to call publically for a safe injection centre for the more than 20,000 registered heroin addicts in Dublin alone.

Ó Ríordáin also said he favoured making the possession of heroin, cocaine or other opiates for personal use no longer an arrestable offence.

Although he is no longer in government, after last year’s election, Ó Ríordáin’s suggestion of partial decriminalisation of drugs among users won the backing of rank-and-file police officers in Ireland, who said it would free up resources.


Henry McDonald Ireland correspondent

The GuardianTramp

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