Home > Dail Eireann debate. Questions on promised legislation [Medicinal cannabis].

[Oireachtas] Dail Eireann debate. Questions on promised legislation [Medicinal cannabis]. (12 Jun 2019)

External website: https://www.oireachtas.ie/en/debates/debate/dail/2...

Deputy Gino Kenny: I thank the Leas-Cheann Comhairle for taking this Topical Issue matter today. I hope there can be some clarity on the confiscation of cannabidiol or CBD products around Ireland. Many people are confused about the legality of CBD products. Even I am confused on what is legal or not legal. 

In recent months some shops in the country have been raided, for the want of a better word, by the police and the Customs and Excise. They have confiscated CBD products such as CBD flower, CBD tea and CBD oil. This is a great inconvenience for the shop owners because they are not breaking any law.


This stems from the law and in particular, the Misuse of Drugs Act 1977. There is no exception whatsoever for tetrahydrocannabinol, THC, trace amounts. This is where we run into trouble. The shop owners are perfectly legitimate and law-abiding. They are selling products that are perfectly legal but obviously there is a situation whereby the interpretation by some arms of the State, in particular, the Customs and Excise and the police, contravenes that of other arms of the State, namely, the Health Products Regulatory Authority and the Food Safety Authority. The latter authorities maintain there can be trace amounts of THC in CBD products of up to 0.2%. That is the background. Some of these shop owners will possibly face criminal sanction and thus the stakes are serious indeed. If the police of this State interpreted the Misuse of Drugs Act 1977 by the letter of the law, then there are shops not far from here on Grafton Street that are selling CBD products with trace amounts of THC at 0.2%. If that is the case, then the manager should be questioned by the police. There is a major contradiction in this regard.


Many people use CBD products and find them beneficial for their well-being. This is putting them in a situation whether they do not know whether they are breaking the law. This is a mess and I hope the Minister of State at the Department of Health can bring some clarity. I have a document to hand from the Department of Health. I understand there are proposed amendments to the 1977 Act to provide for inclusion of trace amounts of THC up to 0.3%. That would give clarity because there is no clarity whatsoever around this issue at present. I hope the Minister of State can elaborate on that point.


The problem lies in laws that were written 42 years ago. They have not been updated to reflect what people are doing at the moment, including CBD shops and CBD derivatives. There has almost been a boom in production of these products during the past two and a half years.


I hope the Minister of State can give some clarity for the people who are listening. Many people are looking and listening to this segment in the Dáil tonight to see where they are going, as shop owners and people who use CBD. I hope they will not be criminalised.


Minister of State at the Department of Health (Deputy Jim Daly): I thank the Deputy for raising the issue in the House today. Revenue's Customs service has primary responsibility for the prevention, detection, interception and seizure of controlled drugs intended to be smuggled or illegally imported into the State. An Garda Síochána has primary responsibility for the investigation of any offences relating to the smuggling or illegal importation of controlled drugs and sole responsibility for drug law enforcement within Ireland. 


Tetrahydrocannabinol, which is commonly referred to as THC, is a derivative of cannabis, which is a controlled drug under the Misuse of Drugs Act 1977 and regulations and orders made thereunder. This legal framework gives effect in Ireland to the international conventions on narcotic and psychotropic substances and must be enforced by the relevant authorities.


Cannabidiol, which is commonly referred to as CBD, is not a controlled drug following extraction from the cannabis plant, as it is not psychoactive. However, if CBD products or preparations also contain THC in any quantity, then these are considered controlled drugs. The legislation currently in operation does not provide for any allowable trace element of THC. 


Deputy Micheál Martin: I have asked this question on a number of occasions. It is time for full transparency and a comprehensive response. The question relates to the commitment made by the Minister for Health nearly two years ago to introduce a compassionate access programme in respect of medical cannabis. The Taoiseach will be aware that the Health Products Regulatory Authority, HPRA, recommended quite a long time ago the introduction of a compassionate access programme in respect of drug-resistant epilepsy, people who get sick from chemotherapy, and spasticity among multiple sclerosis sufferers. Approximately 14 import licences have been given to various individuals. Many have been waiting and waiting for the introduction of the access programme but we are no wiser now, so long on. I ask the Taoiseach to outline the Government's position on the introduction of the compassionate access programme. If he does not have the details now, will he provide me with a comprehensive response as soon as possible?  


The Taoiseach: It is being worked on by the Minister and the Department of Health. I do not have an up-to-date position but I will certainly make sure it is provided to the Deputy…. 


Deputy Gino Kenny: I want to follow up on Deputy Micheál Martin's question. It is two and a half years since the report came out. It was commissioned by the HPRA. Its main recommendation was that the cannabis access programme be set up. Since then, there has been no access programme. In the past two and half years, 16 licences have been granted to 16 individuals in the State. Of those 16 licences, three have involved financial reimbursement. There are, therefore, 13 other families who have not been reimbursed. A family contacted me over the past few weeks. Mary and Joe Stevens, who live in Waterford, were granted a licence last December for their daughter, Cassandra, and they were given notification yesterday by the HSE that they would not be reimbursed. The cost is €9,000 per year. The family still has to go to another jurisdiction, namely, Holland, to get the medication. As of August, however, the family will not be able to afford the medication for their daughter. According to their words and the clinical notes, we have learned that the product has made a dramatic difference to the daughter's life. 


This is so important. I have been banging this drum for the past three years. I am so frustrated. My frustration does not compare with the frustration of the families. Is there a commencement date for the cannabis access programme?.... 


The Taoiseach: Same reply…. 


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