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21/09/2021

Minister for Health Simon Harris signs cannabis for medical reasons legislation

Medical Cannabis Access Programme launch enables compassionate access to cannabis for medical reasons

Five-year Medical Cannabis Access Programme pilot

Minister for Health Simon Harris TD has signed legislation which will allow for the operation of the Medical Cannabis Access Programme on a pilot basis for five years. 

The programme will facilitate access to cannabis-based products for medical use in line with legislation. 

Minister Harris said today (Wednesday) is a "significant milestone". He said: "For years, families have fought for this programme to be established and for years we have faced many challenges, obstacles and hurdles. I am so pleased to be here today to advance this programme and help the lives of many families across the country. 

"The purpose of this programme is to facilitate compassionate access to cannabis for medical reasons, where conventional treatment has failed. It follows the clear pathway laid out by the Health Products Regulatory Authority in their expert report Cannabis for Medical Use – A Scientific Review. 

"Ultimately it will be the decision of the medical consultant, in consultation with their patient, to prescribe a particular treatment, including a cannabis-based treatment, for a patient under their care. It is important to state that there are no plans to legalise cannabis in this country." 

Minister of State for Health Promotion and the National Drugs Strategy Catherine Byrne also welcomed the secondary legislation that will underpin the Medical Cannabis Access Programme.  Minister Byrne commented: “This is an important and positive step forward for those individuals who are suffering serious ill health but for whom conventional medicines are not working." 

The signing of the legislation underpinning the programme allows for commencement of the operation of the programme, the first stage of which is for potential suppliers to apply to have their medical cannabis products assessed for suitability for medical use. Currently no medical cannabis products are available in Ireland, however, this legislation now means that commercial operators whose cannabis products meet the specified requirements set out in the legislation and which have been listed in Schedule 1 of the Misuse of Drugs (Prescription and Control of Supply of Cannabis for Medical Use) Regulations will be able to supply these products to the Irish market. 

Once suitable medical cannabis products are made available by suppliers, the access programme will make it possible for a medical consultant to prescribe a listed cannabis-based treatment for a patient under his or her care for the following medical conditions, where the patient has failed to respond to standard treatments: 

  • Spasticity associated with multiple sclerosis
  • Intractable nausea and vomiting associated with chemotherapy
  • Severe, refractory (treatment-resistant) epilepsy.

The offences and penalties for unauthorised supply and possession of controlled substances remain unchanged. 

It is important to note that where a cannabis product is a specified controlled drug legally permitted for medical use, in connection with the access programme, this does not signify any endorsement whatsoever of the safety, quality or efficacy of the specified controlled drug for the indication prescribed and the Minister for Health will have no liability in respect of the use of such products by a person issued with a prescription by their clinician under this regulation. The use of a cannabis product for the purposes of the access programme is a matter for the patient and their medical advisor. 

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