GP Michael Harty claims Bill aims to legalise recreational cannabis

Sinn Féin TD hits out at doctor for alleging legislation a ‘Trojan horse’

Simon Harris says he will “act quickly’’ on a report about legalising medicinal cannabis due at end of January. Photograph: Dara Mac Donaill

Simon Harris says he will “act quickly’’ on a report about legalising medicinal cannabis due at end of January. Photograph: Dara Mac Donaill

 

Independent TD Michael Harty has claimed that legislation on medicinal cannabis was designed to decriminalise recreational drug use in the guise of legalising it for medicinal use.

But Sinn Féin TD Jonathan O’Brien rounded on Dr Harty, a GP, and said it was

“disingenuous” to claim the Bill was a Trojan horse to legalise cannabis as a recreational drug.

It was particularly disappointing when Dr Harty was chair of the health committee, the Cork TD said. Mr O’Brien insisted the Bill was about medicinal cannabis and he appealed to Mr Harty not to oppose the legislation.

Dr Harty, who earlier on Thursday declared his opposition to the legislation told the Dáil “it is designed to legalise recreational drug use in the guise of legalising it for medicinal use”.

He said there was no reference to the medical conditions to be included in the legislation and medical reports said cannabis should not be smoked.

The final section of the Bill proposed to amend the legislation which bans smoking. “The Bill infers that smoking outside the workplace would be legal.”

Dr Harty said “this Bill is so flawed it should not be given a second reading”.

The Cannabis for Medicinal Use Regulation Bill was introduced by AAA-PBP TD Gino Kenny.

Mr Kenny said the essence of the legislation was to relieve people’s suffering in a variety of serious conditions through an effective medicine.

He said it provided for patients to receive a “legally protected, secure supply of quality-controlled cannabis that is safe and effective”.

Legal protection

A Westminster committee report showed evidence of relief from conditions such as chronic pain, nausea and vomiting particularly in the context of chemotherapy, spasticity, cancer, fibromyalgia, epilepsy and Parkinson’s disease.

“There is also increasing evidence that when patients use cannabis-based products more toxic alternatives such as opiate painkillers and sedatives are reduced and more serious side effects and deaths on these drugs are reduced,” he said.

No patient has ever died as a result of using cannabis, said Mr Kenny.

“Over the past five decades the cannabis plant has been stigmatised, criminalised and demonised by Governments and corporations with their own vested interests. The war on drugs has been a miserable failure all over the world and governments are now picking up the pieces.”

He highlighted the case of Mark Gaynor and his five-year-old son, Ronan, who suffers from a rare childhood cancer.

And he said the campaign by Vera Twomey for her daughter, Ava, had been the catalyst that forced the Government to review its policy on cannabis.

Families seeking the legalisation of medicinal cannabis were in the public gallery for the Dáil debate.

Minister for Health Simon Harris has said he will “act quickly’’ on a report about legalising medicinal cannabis due at end of January.

He said the report, by the Health Products Regulatory Authority (HPRA) would provide with expert advice.

“Deputies should be aware that this review is of the highest priority for the HPRA, who have convened a working group to include input from clinicians actively practising in the therapeutic areas in which cannabis is believed to be of benefit,’’ he added.

The Government is not opposing the Bill which would legalise medicinal cannabis.

Complex issue

“The review also needs to take account of concerns that have been expressed in relation to the potential from exposure to cannabis,’’ he added.

He said in other countries medicinal cannabis was made available only on the basis of a prescription.

Many Irish doctors would be quite cautious about recommending a cannabis-based treatment for a patient, in the absence of robust clinical evidence which underpinned authorised medicines.

Mr Harris said he had some serious concerns about the Bill, particularly the proposal to remove cannabis and its derivatives from the schedule and various sections of the Misuse of Drugs Acts.

“This would mean cannabis would no longer be a controlled drug and possession for personal or recreational use would not be an offence,’’ he added.

Fianna Fáil health spokesman Billy Kelleher said his party supported the overall policy of the Bill. There are many families who are experiencing that with medicinal cannabis suffering can be alleviated and they did not want them to be criminalised.