TWO GPs who want cannabis legalised and regulated for both recreational and medicinal use have won support from their doctors' body to set up an expert committee to look at the drug's "positive and negative" effects.
Dr Cathal O Suilliobhain, a Dublin-based GP, and Dr Garret McGovern both treat drug addicts and say the majority of people who use cannabis have no health problems and "nobody ever died from cannabis use".
The most serious problem they face is "getting caught", said Dr O Suilliobhain.
Dr O Suilliobhain told the annual meeting of the Irish Medical Organisation (IMO) in Maynooth, Co Kildare, that around one in four people have tried cannabis at some stage and it was time to take an objective look at the drug, examining all available evidence.
He said he had "kids coming to me, usually with parents, and the problem is not the drug itself but a problem with the family, with school, with the law". Dr O Suilliobhain suggested young people were getting convictions – for using cannabis – that were ruining their lives.
Dr McGovern said that if cannabis was regulated rather than decriminalised, it would help pave the way for research into effects. "If you regulate a drug, you can study it with a greater degree of accuracy," he added.
The GPs referred to the responses by TDs in the Dail last year when a bill to regulate cannabis and allow its sale came before them. They described some of the reaction as absurd and suggested that Health Minister James Reilly's comments would not have been out of place in 'Reefer Madness', an anti-marijuana propaganda movie of the 1930s.
Dr O Suilliobhain said during his own time as a medical student in the 1970s, there was "a significant number of people rolling spliffs up the back of the classroom" in the Royal College of Surgeons. There was no point in proposing a motion to the annual meeting of the IMO calling for the decriminalisation of cannabis because the trade union would not support it, he said.
However, the motion by both doctors to establish an expert committee to examine the effects of cannabis use and production in Ireland in order to help eliminate the illicit trade in psychoactive products was unanimously supported.
Meanwhile, the outgoing IMO president Dr Matt Sadlier – who is a psychiatrist in Dublin – told the meeting that doctors were still "working in a vacuum" due to the delay in bringing forward guidelines on the implementation of the Protection of Life During Pregnancy Act published last summer and which allows for abortion in limited circumstances.
He told the meeting he appreciated that the group of experts asked to draw up the guidelines faced a very complex process. But the delays meant doctors were given the equivalent of the Road Traffic Act without any rules of the road on how to advise them in areas such as referral. The Act should not have commenced without the guidelines also being ready, he added.
Other doctors – including psychiatrist Dr Eleanor Corcoran – said that, given the complexity, it was essential to allow the committee as much time as they needed to examine all the evidence, particularly in cases where a woman was seeking a termination on the grounds of suicide.
The Department of Health has said that a final draft of the guidelines was complete and would be ready for distribution soon.