The Malta Independent 29 February 2020, Saturday

Fearne stresses smoking-based medicinal cannabis products banned to avoid alternative uses

Monday, 11 December 2017, 19:59 Last update: about 3 years ago

Health Minister Chris Fearne this evening described how the government has proposed to legalise the use of products derived from cannabis extracts without allowing prescriptions for cannabis intended for smoking so as to avoid people using the plant for recreational purposes.

Fearne stressed that this introduction is only for medicinal purposes and no products can be prescribed for smoking because the amendment “is not a window” for the substance to be used for recreational purposes.

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He was speaking this evening in Parliament during the debate for the second reading of an amendment to the Drug Dependency (treatment not imprisonment) Act legalising medicinal cannabis.

He stressed that all medical doctors have the right to prescribe products derived from cannabis extracts if no viable alternative exists and it is believe that it is the best option for the patient.

The cannabis flower will not be permitted, and smoking products cannot be prescribed. The medicinal products can only be prescribed on a name basis, and a doctor must write to the superintendent for public health for it to be approved for the patient. Once approval is granted, the patient may then pick up its product from a pharmacist.

Fearne explained that through a doctor’s prescription patients are aware of the exact dosage of what they are taking, rather than buying something online and not knowing exactly it contains.

Products derived from cannabis extracts must be made according to good manufacturing practice, a predetermined set of criteria.

“It is important that all products brought into the local market are properly marked with the correct dosage, which is why we implemented the good manufacturing practice requirement”.

He said it is important that prices are reasonable so as not to act as a barrier for those patients who need the product.

Fearne described his pleasure at both sides of the House being in agreement on the principle of the matter.

“There is consensus both in the political sphere and within Maltese society”.

Fearne said in correspondence with Caritas the entity expressed its support of medical cannabis.

“This is the way politics should be done. Where there is agreement we will move forward, where there is disagreement we can discuss and understand where the other is coming from. If there are any proposals that can improve the law, I will take this on board. This is the mature way of doing politics.”

He described how in the previous legislature, the Dependency Act was introduced by the Labour government. It had, among other things, introduced the concept of medicinal products derived from cannabis can be used for medicinal purposes.

“There were a number of provisos, among which, that the product is only made for medicinal purposes and could only be prescribed by a specialist and not any medical doctor.”

Fearne explained that due to the provisos included, no patient benefitted from the law enacted in 2015.

The scope of today’s amendment is for the medicines derived from cannabis products would be made available to a wider range of patients.

“Literally hundreds of patients questioned why they had no access and requested the government to act.

 “I do not want anybody to take the message that the government is weak against those wanting to traffic drugs to our children.”

Shadow minister for Health Stephen Spiteri hailed the ban on smoking products because of the room for abuse it could lead to for recreational purposes.

He also backed the good manufacturing practice so as to ensure that Maltese patients benefit from the best products available. Spiteri stressed the need for education on the use of these products, their role in public health and how they can benefit patients.

He spoke of its beneficial aspects to treat pain management, to help cancer patients, patients suffering from fibromyalgia and multiple sclerosis. 

“It is important that we stick to the rules, and I have no doubt that this will only be made accessible exclusively by prescription.”

He stressed the importance of prices being reasonable in order to truly help people. 

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