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Minister will still have power to grant licences for medical cannabis

Licences have been issued for treatment of six individual patients via the Ministerial licence route. Valid applications received are assessed “without delay”, according to the Department.

“The legal basis for the Ministerial licence for medical cannabis in exceptional circumstances is the Misuse of Drugs Acts 1977-2017. The Medical Cannabis Access Programme, once operational, will operate as a separate scheme for the facilitation of access to medical cannabis for certain specified medical conditions in certain circumstances.”

Clinical guidelines for the access programme have been finalised and will be published on the Department’s website “shortly”.

Dr Máirín Ryan, HIQA’s Deputy Chief Executive and Director of Health Technology Assessment, was appointed as chair of an expert reference group tasked with developing operational, clinical and practice guidelines for the access programme for medical cannabis in Ireland.

“The clinical guidelines have now been finalised and will be published on the Department’s website shortly,” said the Department spokesperson. “The guidelines are intended for use by healthcare professionals using medical cannabis-based products for the treatment of patients under their care. They provide detailed guidance under the headings: aims; context and scope; guidelines for treatment; contraindications and precautions and ongoing monitoring.

“The expert reference group has met on seven occasions and has also carried out extensive targeted consultations.”

The HSE has been requested to establish and maintain a patient register to facilitate the access programme. Work is continuing in relation to sourcing suitable quality-controlled, affordable, cannabis-based products for Irish patients.

Drafting of secondary legislation to underpin the access programme continues and will be finalised “once appropriate cannabis product supplies have been established”, according to the Department.

In February 2017, Minister for Health Simon Harris published Cannabis for Medical Use – A Scientific Review which was undertaken by the Health Products Regulatory Authority (HPRA).

On foot of this report, the Minister decided to establish an access programme for medical cannabis-based treatments for spasticity associated with multiple sclerosis; intractable nausea and vomiting associated with chemotherapy; and severe, refractory epilepsy that has failed to respond to standard anticonvulsant medications.

Patients accessing medical cannabis through the access programme must be under the shared care of their GP and medical consultant to monitor progress.

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