Updated | Cannabis research is Malta Medicines Authority's priority

Malta's law allowing the sale and production of medical cannabis enables companies to carry out research on the product, delegates at the Medical Cannabis World Forum in Valletta were told

Medicinal cannabis was legalised in Malta earlier this year
Medicinal cannabis was legalised in Malta earlier this year

Malta is fully committed to research the medical use of cannabis, Parliamentary Secretary Deo Debattista has told delegates at the Medical Cannabis World Forum gathered in Valletta.

Debattista said cannabis research was a priority area for the Medicines Authority.

Malta legalised cannabis for medical use this year but there is still a lot of wariness in terms of prescribing the substance. It was recently the cause of controversy when patients prescribed cannabis as medication faced the prospect of having their driving licenses suspended.

READ MORE: Taking the high road

The two-day-long forum started on Tuesday and includes panels of experts from the EU and Canada, including Deepak Anand, a Canadian politician and Executive Director of the Canadian National Medical Marijuana Association (CNMMA).

Experts unanimously agreed that Malta is leading Europe in the realm of medical cannabis.

"Malta has floodlit an area which is still shaky elsewhere," Debattista said at the opening of the event. "Cannabis has been recognised for its treatment properties thousands of years ago and it's only now that it's being considered innovative."

He said the Medicines Authority has made research into cannabis a priority and is currently offering consultation and guidance.

Labour MEP Miriam Dalli, a keynote speaker, praised Malta for understanding the business opportunities that come with the medical cannabis industry. "The reason why EU member states differ on this issue, even though many like Spain and the UK have legalised medical cannabis, is the lack of scientific data," she said.

Dalli said there was certainty though over the therapeutic effects medical cannabis offers to those suffering from chronic pain. The lack of data available, however, on other aspects of the drug should not deter legislators from testing what could otherwise be a very useful substance, she added.

"Investment, research and a common legislative framework will guarantee better use of medical cannabis. Denying patients knowledge of a substance that may alleviate their pain and suffering violates a basic human right," she said.

Experts in the field agreed that Malta was leading the way in Europe on medical cannabis
Experts in the field agreed that Malta was leading the way in Europe on medical cannabis

Experts on the podium took questions from the audience made up of pharmacists, doctors and dilettantes. Many doctors brought up the lament that most treatments involved a lot of side-effects to the detriment of their patients.

Jan Witte, a consultant physician in Hematology and Oncology in Berlin said that medical cannabis presents little to no side-effects and that the road being paved by Malta towards serious research would ultimately prove that.

Prime Minister's speech

In his keynote speech, Joseph Muscat said, "It is not by chance that you are gathered here. It is the right time. There are so many things happening here, finding fertile soil in Malta. This country is one shared office where businesses are working independently yet side by side." 

Prime Minister Joseph Muscat at the Medical Cannabis World Forum at the Mediterranean Conference Centre:
Prime Minister Joseph Muscat at the Medical Cannabis World Forum at the Mediterranean Conference Centre: "Malta is an innovation island."

He referred to Malta as an "innovation island" where blockchain companies might knock on the door of an AI innovator. "Medical cannabis is a perfect example of how we operate in a nimble and effective manner, allowing businesses to thrive within set parameters."

He said that Malta was swift in enacting legislation but that this was not done haphazardly. 

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