Wednesday 13 December 2017

Harris to support legalisation of medicinal cannabis

Minister for Health Simon Harris. Photo: Tom Burke
Minister for Health Simon Harris. Photo: Tom Burke

Eilish O’Regan

The legalisation of medicinal cannabis for some patients early next year has moved a step closer after Health Minister Simon Harris said he would not oppose a Bill on the proposal put forward by the Opposition.

The Bill has been presented to the Dail by People Before Profit TD Gino Kenny and follows a campaign led by Cork mother Vera Twomey whose daughter Ava suffers from severe epilepsy and has seen a reduction in seizures since she has started medicinal cannabis.

Mr Harris said he will not oppose the Bill but it is likely to be subject to several amendments before it would become law.

This will aim to ensure checks and balances are in place to protect patient safety and reduce risks.

In particular it will be informed by a review of medicinal cannabis which is being carried out by the Health Products Regulatory Authority and will be completed at the end of January.

Mr Harris said: ”I have been very clear that I want to see policy in this area reviewed. I share the concerns of patients who believe that cannabis should be a treatment option for certain medical conditions and I recognise the urgency and worry they feel.

“I am anxious to proceed as quickly as possible, however, it is important that we have expert advice to underpin decisions on how best to move forward.  That is why I have asked the Health Products Regulatory Authority to provide me with the scientific and clinical advice necessary for me to consider amendments to the current statutory controls on medicinal cannabis.  I expect to receive their recommendations by the end of January 2017.  I would like to recognise that the Joint Committee on Health is also considering this matter.

"I met with Deputy Gino Kenny and Deputy Richard Boyd Barrett to discuss areas of agreement and also to express some concerns I have with the Bill.

“In particular it includes removing references to cannabis from the Misuse of Drugs Act which has the effect of making it legal for anyone to possess cannabis, including for recreational purposes. 

"It also proposes establishing two new agencies but the appropriate agency to oversee any change to the regulatory regime for medicinal cannabis already exists in the form of the HRPA.  I understand from my meeting with the Deputies yesterday that they are cognisant of the unintended consequences that could flow from these aspects of the Bill and are willing to make amendments in this regard."

He added: "I accept the Deputies' bona fides, share their desire to make progress on this matter and it is clear there is much common ground on this across the Oireachtas.  Therefore, while there are elements of the Bill I do not and will not support, I don't wish to divide the Dail on this issue and will not oppose the Bill at Second Stage.

"As the Minister for Health, I have to make decisions based on the best clinical advice and for that reason, and the reasons set out above, I have to stress the importance of receiving the recommendations of the HPRA before the Bill would move on to the legislative scrutiny stage at Committee.  It is my hope that the work of the HPRA, the work of the Oireachtas Committee and the progression of this Bill will dovetail so that we can arrive at the right solution in the best interests of patients."

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