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Home > Joint Committee on Health debate. Quarterly update on health issues: discussion.

[Oireachtas] Joint Committee on Health debate. Quarterly update on health issues: discussion. (22 May 2019)

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…..Minister Simon Harris: I will do my very best. I thank the Deputy for these questions. I am grateful to have the opportunity to discuss cannabis because there has been a great deal of coverage of it. It is important for me to set the record straight on this. There are no plans to legalise cannabis or any other illicit drugs in our country. What there are, though, are two important and distinct streams of work. The first relates to a compassionate access programme for cannabis for medicinal reasons. I intend to set that up over the summer months. I expect to sign the statutory instruments in the coming weeks. A great deal of work is being done with HSE colleagues to prepare for that. That programme has been designed in consultation with clinicians and clinical guidelines have been published, which are available on my Department’s website. It came about after I asked the Health Products Regulatory Authority to carry out the first ever review in Ireland of the potential use of cannabis for medicinal purposes. It reported back indicating there were three areas it could be used for: multiple sclerosis, MS, certain types of epilepsy and vomiting and the likes from chemotherapy. There will be a scheme set up before that and that is a separate and distinct matter which I believe we are supportive.


The second issue is one in respect of which we are fulfilling a commitment in the programme for Government and a commitment of a former Oireachtas committee, which was chaired at the time by Deputy Stanton, who is now a Minister of State. There is also our national drugs and alcohol strategy, which deals with how we can take a health-led approach to drug addiction. It is not about legalising drugs, but when we come across somebody with a drug addiction should we be giving them a helping hand or a handcuff? It is wrong, stigmatising and dismissive of our obligations to people with an addiction if we take only a criminal justice approach to that. It is about recognising the fact that behind every addict is somebody’s son, daughter, mother, father, brother or sister and that the war on drugs around the entire world fails. If we want to break the cycle of addiction, we must take a health-led approach. Deciding that the only thing we will do for a drug addict is put them in touch with the criminal justice system will not break addiction. That approach would be a failure in our duties in terms of a modern health service and a compassionate, tolerant society that wants to look after and care for people in difficult times. When it comes to drug addiction, there but for the grace of God go I. It is not about legalising drugs; rather it is about being compassionate and offering the helping hand rather the handcuff tor people who are addicts.


The Minister of State, Deputy Catherine Byrne, and I have established a working group on this issue with colleagues from the Departments of Justice and Equality and Health, the HSE, drug addiction services, An Garda Síochána, and so on. It has reported and we will consider that report and bring it to Government in the coming weeks. There are no plans to legalise cannabis but there is a plan to have an access programme to it for medicinal reasons and a plan for how we can tackle the underlying issues of drug addiction, recognising than no one is born wanting to be a drug addict. Many people become drug addicts by circumstances of birth. We must ask why are people taking drugs and how we can break the cycle of addiction. I hope that clarifies what I believe has been a misrepresentation by some and, in fairness, a genuine concern on the part of our medics and medically qualified people that their voices were not being heard on this. I assure them we will continue to work closely with clinicians on this and even on a medicinal programme. Clinical guidelines have been drawn up and an excellent body of work done in that regard.

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