Ireland Moves Forward with Medical Cannabis Legislation

On June 26th 2019, the Irish government announced its plans for a five year medical cannabis access pilot programme.

What will this mean, in practice, for people living in Ireland, and how does the policy compare to Ireland’s neighbouring European countries?

Although now based in central London, Hanway Associates has strong roots in Ireland. Co-founders Alastair Moore and George McBride are both proud Irishmen and are pleased that cannabis reform is finally evolving in Ireland. Thinking back to the company’s beginnings, CCO Alastair Moore recalls, “the idea behind Cannabis Europa was actually forged when George and I ran the Global Medical Cannabis Summit in Smock Alley Theatre Dublin in 2016.”

George McBride, Hanway Associates CEO said:

“We welcome this move by the Irish government, which will no doubt improve access to life-changing medication for patients and allow the import of high quality medical cannabis from abroad. I expect cannabis reform will take hold in Ireland faster than most people expect, following other positive social reforms in Ireland, such as marriage equality and legal abortion. We are proud that Ireland is moving in the right direction.”

Five Year Pilot Programme 

The legislature signed by Minister for Health Simon Harris TD will allow for the prescription of medical cannabis by medical consultants, of medication produced by suppliers that meet specific requirements specified by the legislation. Under the programme it must be prescribed by a consultant, and only for the treatment of multiple sclerosis, nausea related to chemotherapy and severe cases of epilepsy. 

Previous to this, GW Pharmaceuticals’ Sativex was technically legal in Ireland, but inaccessible. After the first licence for medical cannabis was issued in December 2016, for a two-year-old boy with Dravets syndrome, a small number of licences for individual patients who wished to be prescribed cannabis-based products containing THC were issued. In order to obtain a license to prescribe the medications Irish medical practitioners had to make detailed applications to the Minister of Health, limiting access to the point where only a handful of patients had their medicines approved. 

While the scope of this pilot programme is still limited, considering the wide range of conditions cannabis is prescribed for in other jurisdictions, this move should work to open up access for many who were unable to access the medicine under the prior rules. 

In a statement, Minister Harris said:

Simon Harris TD, Irish Minister for Health

Simon Harris TD, Irish Minister for Health

“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.”

Following the example of France and Denmark, the programme is set to last five years but will only allow specialist consultants to prescribe medical cannabis for the following specified medical conditions, and pharmacists to dispense the medication. 

  • spasticity associated with multiple sclerosis

  • intractable nausea and vomiting associated with chemotherapy

  • severe, refractory (treatment-resistant) epilepsy

The conditions for which it will be allowed echo those set out in the UK NHS guidelines following legalisation in the UK last year, as well as those recommended by France’s ANSM. 

Tilray Make First Import of Medical Cannabis Oil to Ireland

The publicly listed Canadian company, known in the UK for its role in providing critical medication to the young severe epilepsy patient Billy Caldwell in 2018, has already delivered its first shipment of medical cannabis to Ireland. This makes Ireland the 13th country outside of Canada to receive Tilray’s medication, demonstrating the company’s willingness to expand its European operations.

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According to the company’s own press release, the products important into Ireland are GMP-manufactured orally administered oils, containing both THC and CBD and meet the specifications laid out by the Irish Department of Health. 

However, this particular import is billed for government testing only, and not for commercial use, although the company intends to offer its full suite of products in Ireland in the near future as it already does in other European countries. It remains to be seen which other major international cannabis brands intend to enter the brand new Irish market.

Commenting on recent developments, George McBride noted that, “this does offer a number of opportunities for the global medical cannabis industry. Although we have already seen imports from the likes of Tilray, we do not expect large quantities of medication to be readily available in the short-term due to the restrictive nature of the legislation. We do have confidence however, that Ireland is moving in the right direction and will allow patients to have better access to medication soon enough.” 

Good Neighbours?

With London fast becoming a hub for both investment and entrepreneurship in the European cannabis industry, the recent developments in Ireland could offer opportunities to UK-based medical cannabis businesses. 

One such business which is already speaking about making moves in Ireland is Prohibition Partners, who recently opened an office in Dublin’s Temple Bar. Prohibition Partners’ Executive Director Stephen Murphy and Head of Content Eoin Keenan also hail from Ireland and partner with Hanway Associates in hosting Cannabis Europa.

Hanway Associates also has plans to expand its Irish operations. Alastair Moore noted:

“We are looking forward to bringing our brands and industry knowledge back to Dublin over the coming 12 months. Expect to see a First Wednesdays network event in the capital sometime soon.”

For more insights and advice on cannabis policy developments in Ireland, please get in touch at info@hanwayassociates.com.