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Contents of bill for medicinal cannabis revealed: smoking completely ruled out

Amendments to the Drug Dependency (treatment not imprisonment) Bill which would allow medical practitioners to prescribe medicinal marijuana show that authorities propose to ban medicinal preparations intended for smoking. This means that medicinal cannabis would be legally prescribed in the form of edibles – oil or other non-smoking methods of consumption.

Health Minister Chris Fearne will start the debate on the amendments, which is in its second reading, tomorrow evening in Parliament. The Bill, which was presented for its first reading on 27 November, permits registered medical practitioners to prescribe medicinal cannabis if “no viable alternative” exists.

Contents of the proposed amendments seen by The Malta Independent on Sunday, state: “A licensed medical practitioner who is duly registered in accordance with the Health Care Professions Act, shall be entitled to prescribe to patients medicinal preparations of the plant cannabis and synthetic cannabinoid products licensed under the Medicines Act or manufactured under good manufacturing practice, if it is considered that there is no viable alternative to such prescription due account being taken of any protocols which may be in force from time to time in respect of the prescription of medicines, of the interests of the patient and of the costs.

“None of the preparations referred to in sub-article 1 may be indicated for smoking or in any form meant for smoking.”

As per directions by the Superintendent of Public Health, medicinal cannabis preparations are only to be prescribed on a named-patient basis.

The standard operating procedure to authorise cannabis preparations are to observe the following conditions: All preparations requested by medical practitioners are “to comply with the Medicines Act or manufactured under Good Manufacturing Practice”.

All licensed medical practitioners are entitled to prescribe medical cannabis; they must send an application for its use to a generic e-mail at the office of the Superintendent of Public Health. The application is then processed and if accepted, the “prescriber, pharmaceutical wholesale dealer and the pharmacist receive a copy of the application endorsed by the Superintendent for Public Health”.

Should the application be rejected, the above parties would be notified with the reason for the rejection listed.

Time-line of events

The subject of legislating cannabis for medicinal purposes was first broached in Parliament by former Labour and now Partit Demokratiku MP Godfrey Farrugia back in June 2014. He called for the legalisation of medicinal cannabis for non-smoking purposes to improve the patients’ quality of life where no other alternative exists. He also called on lawmakers to listen to the needs of patients.

The following month, Justice Minister Owen Bonnici issued a white paper for what would be the Drug Dependency Act. This Act, approved in 2015, gave softer penalties to those caught with specified quantities of marijuana, ecstasy and cocaine. It also enabled medical practitioners to prescribe medicinal cannabis.

The latter part encountered difficulties however and because of inconsistencies with the law, medical practitioners were not in fact allowed to prescribe medicinal cannabis product derivatives. The only instance where, on a name basis, patients could access one type of cannabis derivative product was for those suffering from Multiple Sclerosis.

 In August of this year, synthetic CBD oil (CBD being one type of cannabinoid found in the cannabis plant) became legal; however, because it is extremely expensive price, many patients could not benefit from this product.

While the battle raged on, many patients turned to black-market products in order to get access.

At this stage, the amendments to allow medical practitioners to prescribe medicinal cannabis were drafted, with the first reading presented on 27 November and a debate on the issue to take place tomorrow evening in Parliament.