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cannabis legalization

Ireland’s health minister Simon Harris signed legislation on June 26, 2019, to allow citizens access to cannabis. The details behind the new law suggest the nation may believe the herb can heal their country in more ways than one. 

Under the 5-year pilot program the health minister 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.”

Harris added, “You will be assessed [financially] on the same basis – if you get the drug payment scheme you will be covered in that, if you have the medical card, you’ll be covered under the prescription charges, if you are on long-term illness, you will be covered under that.”

Unlike here in the US, Irish insurance will pay for medical cannabis. Ireland has a public healthcare system that covers everyone living in the country. Those who make higher incomes do pay fees for specific services, but the government regulates all payers, guaranteeing cannabis will be covered. 

Doctors can prescribe medical cannabis for patients with the following conditions if they haven’t responded to standard treatments:

  • Spasticity associated with multiple sclerosis
  • Intractable nausea and vomiting associated with chemotherapy
  • Severe, refractory (treatment-resistant) epilepsy

Minister Harris first proposed The Medical Cannabis Access Programme two years ago, but the delay was allegedly due to their inability to find a supplier. It seems the country figured out how to kill two birds with one stone during the interim. 

Bord na Móna, From Peat to Pot

In May, Minister of State for Natural Resources, Community Affairs, and Digital Development Sean Canney met with Bord na Móna, a semi-state owned corporation, to discuss their potential ability to begin growing cannabis. Bord na Móna was established in the 1940s to prop up the nation’s energy production industry centered around the harvesting of peat. The conglomerate has since expanded to include biomass procurement and supply, waste recovery, fuel products, and horticulture.

Their main business has remained harvesting peat for Ireland to burn in one of the world’s worst energy production systems.  Burning peat for electricity emits more carbon dioxide than coal, and nearly twice as much as natural gas. The international community has placed increasing pressure on Ireland to find alternative sources of energy, but this is complicated by much of the wealthy citizenship’s financial ties to the semi-State conglomerate. 

The Irish government has promised to stop burning peat entirely by 2030, but before they do Bord na Móna needs a replacement revenue source. Though the new medical marijuana legislation states that commercial operators whose cannabis products meet the “specified requirements” will be able to supply products to the Irish market, they may not make it easy if Bord na Móna can figure out how to produce the nation’s pot themselves.

“A huge array of options of how to go from a brown to a green company are being looked at,” Health Minister Harris told Irish news outlet The Journal concerning Bord na Móna. 

“Obviously they are a commercial semi-State. It is a matter for them to make these decisions, but instinctively I think in the medium term [marijuana] is something that would make sense,” Harris went on to say.

While Irish lawmakers are spinning their control of cannabis cultivation as a matter of public health, reading between the lines suggests another story. During the launch of the new law on the 26th, Minister Harris said: “It is important to state that there are no plans to legalize cannabis in this country.” 

Keeping marijuana illegal and only dispensable by a government-run healthcare system that is also cultivating the product looks much more like a cash-grab monopoly than a step for public health. Cannabis has been a massive moneymaker in North America where free trade markets are more firmly rooted. Ireland may see a cannabis monopoly as a way to produce a cash crop of their own to replace peat.

By subsidizing cannabis sales through their health insurance system, Ireland can guarantee that their own cannabis crops are purchased regardless of quality. This is a much different model than in most of the US and Canada, where private businesses compete for purity and potency, ultimately raising the quality and lowering the prices of the entire market. In terms of cannabis law, nothing is as yet set in stone. The government will initially buy their cannabis from other European countries while it figures out if it can steer domestic production to Bord na Móna.

Hopefully, over the next five years before the program comes up for review in 2024, the list of conditions eligible for access to marijuana will expand, and the Irish will step away from pursuing a government monopoly on a naturally growing plant. Ireland’s commitment to keeping marijuana illegal is alarming with so little evidence remaining that it’s any sort of danger to society. 

Earlier this year, the World Health Organization recommended cannabis and cannabis resin “be deleted from Schedule 4 of the Single Convention on Narcotics Drugs (1961).” The report stated, “The evidence presented to the Committee did not indicate that cannabis plant and cannabis resin were particularly liable to produce ill-effects.” The international community should pressure Ireland to make their cannabis roll out about health, not greenhouse gases and cash. As the few details we have stand, it seems quite the coincidence that a government would keep cannabis illegal and cultivate it solely through a state-run corporation in need of a new cash crop since the one it is currently growing is destroying the environment.

References

Access to Medicinal Cannabis Now Allowed under Irish Law, www.lawsociety.ie/gazette/top-stories/access-to-medicinal-cannabis-now-allowed-under-irish-law/.

Broom, Douglas. “Everything You Need to Know about Ireland’s Economy.” World Economic Forum, www.weforum.org/agenda/2019/03/everything-you-need-to-know-about-ireland-s-economy/.

“Cannabis.” World Health Organization, World Health Organization, 7 Dec. 2010, www.who.int/substance_abuse/facts/cannabis/en/.

Finn, Christina. “Harris Had ‘Good’ Meeting with Bord Na Móna about It Growing Ireland’s Medicinal Cannabis Supply.” TheJournal.ie, www.thejournal.ie/bord-na-mona-medicinal-cannabis-4698482-Jun2019/.

Lonergan, Aidan. “Access to Medical Cannabis Is Now Legal in Ireland under New Pilot Scheme.” The Irish Post, The Irish Post, 26 June 2019, www.irishpost.com/news/access-medical-cannabis-now-legal-ireland-new-pilot-scheme-168436.

Pascual, Alfredo. “World Health Organization Recommends Rescheduling Cannabis, Provides Clarity on CBD.” Marijuana Business Daily, 29 Mar. 2019, mjbizdaily.com/world-health-organization-rescheduling-cannabis-clarity-cbd/.

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