Ireland on Wednesday launched a scheme that will allow its citizens to use cannabis for medicinal purposes.
Simon Harris, the country’s health minister, signed legislation that establishes a program to give patients access to marijuana for treatment purposes. “The Medical Cannabis Access Programme” will be maintained for five years until 2024, at which time it will undergo a review. Previously, medical marijuana was available only to select patients in the country. Recreational marijuana remains illegal there.
Ireland is just the latest European country to greenlight medical marijuana, as more and more governments across the continent reconsider anti-pot laws. In February, the European Union passed a resolution encouraging member states to ease restrictions on medical marijuana. Portugal approved a measure legalizing medical marijuana earlier this month, while Italy, Germany, and Great Britain have enacted similar laws. On Wednesday, the Swiss government announced plans to make it easier for patients to get prescriptions for medicinal cannabis.
In Ireland, the effort has been marked by a series of fits and starts. Harris proposed the program two years ago, but its ultimate enactment was delayed by an inability to find a supplier that could export the products into the country. That hurdle was finally cleared earlier this month, allowing Harris to turn the program into a reality on Wednesday.
The program will allow medical cannabis treatment for patients suffering from various conditions associated with multiple sclerosis, chemotherapy and epilepsy—as long as those patients have failed to respond to more conventional treatments. The legislation comes a month after a group of doctors, calling themselves the “Cannabis Risk Alliance,” penned an open letter voicing their concerns about the effects of marijuana. In the letter, which was among others signed by Dr. Ray Walley, the former president of the Irish Medical Organisation, the doctors lamented what they called a “one-sided discussion about cannabis.”
“Most of the people taking part in these discussions are sincere and well-intentioned,” they wrote in the letter. “However, as doctors, we are concerned that Ireland is being led down the path of cannabis legalisation. We are opposed to such a move as we strongly feel that it would be bad for Ireland, especially for the mental and physical health of our young people.”
On Wednesday, Harris seemed to address those concerns, saying that, “It is important to state that there are no plans to legalise cannabis in this country,” as quoted by the Irish Post.
“The purpose of this programme is to facilitate compassionate access to cannabis for medical reasons, where conventional treatment has failed,” Harris said. “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.”