[WATCH] Law will be changed to provide easier access to medicinal cannabis

A 2015 law decriminalsiing the personal use of drugs proved to be too bureaucratic for users of medicinal cannabis and was never used by doctors to prescribe the medicine, Health Minister Chris Fearne says

Health Minister Chris Fearne is piloting changes to the law making access to medicinal cannabis easier
Health Minister Chris Fearne is piloting changes to the law making access to medicinal cannabis easier
Health Minister Chris Fearne on medicinal cannabis

Changes to the law dealing with treatment of drug users will be presented to Parliament this evening in a bid to facilitate the prescription of medicinal cannabis by doctors.

Government is proposing a simplified process for the prescription of medicinal cannabis by amending the Drug Dependence (Treatment not imprisonment) Act, Health Minister Chris Fearne said this afternoon.

Fearne said he would be presenting the amendments to the clerk of the House. The First Reading will happen tonight with the aim of having the discussion over the coming weeks.

He said that the law introduced during the last legislature had followed a long period of consultation but proved to be problematic since it placed a number of restrictions on doctors prescribing the drug.

One such restriction was the fact that only certain specialists were permitted to prescribe cannabis-based products and these had to be registered and licensed, either by the Medicines Authority, or the European Medicines Agency.

“In these two years, we found that despite strong requests by patients and doctors alike, in practice the 2015 law included too much bureaucracy and it had never been used despite the requests," Fearne said.

He said the government was looking at implementing a more “user friendly” process.

“This has nothing to do with recreational cannabis. We are only talking about medicinal cannabis and we have had requests from doctors saying that the law is unworkable as it is,” he said.

The government has an electoral mandate to consider the legalisation of cannabis for recreational use and a public consultation process is underway.

The minister stressed that the responsibility for prescriptions would remain the doctor’s. Under the new legal regime, all doctors registered with the Maltese Medical Council would be able to prescribe cannabis-based medication.

The second main change would allow for products manufactured under Good Manufacturing Practice conditions – a standard used by the pharmaceutical industry among others – to be licensed and sold to patients, in addition to those licensed as medicines.

Fearne explained that this meant that doctors would be able to know exactly how much of the active ingredients were present in a product, as well as other information doctors might wish to know.

“No products prescribed by a doctor can be used for smoking, and these products created under GMP conditions can only be purchased from a pharmacy using a control card,” he said, adding that only importers licensed by the Medicines Authority would be allowed to do so.

Superintendent of Public Health Charmaine Gauci said that amendment would be affecting products that contained the ingredients tetrahydrocannabinol and cannabinol. She said the use of the plant in the treatment of various conditions had been studied for a very long time, with there being evidence showing its utility in alleviating the symptoms of several conditions.

These, she said, included pain associated with chronic illnesses and spasticity associated with paraplegia and multiple sclerosis, nausea from chemotherapy, as well as increasing the appetite of people receiving HIV treatment. Gauci said the plant also had uses in the treatment of glaucoma and Tourette Syndrome.

Gauci said that both natural and synthetic products could be prescribed, provided they adhered to the requirements laid out in the law.

She said if a doctor were to decide that a patient could benefit from the use of cannabis for their particular condition, they would now need to apply with the Superintendence of Public Health where they would indicate information regarding the patient, as well as why the medicine is being prescribed, prior to a prescription being approved.

More in National