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How Malta ran out of medical cannabis



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Shortages of medical cannabis in Malta are leaving patients with no choice but to turn to opioids or the black market, ReLeaf’s Andrew Bonello told Cannabis Health.

Patients have been ‘left in the dark’ after Malta ran out medical cannabis this week – but it’s not the first time this has happened.

According to activist group ReLeaf Malta, which campaigns for the regulation of cannabis in the country, shortages have been an issue since the drug was legalised for medical purposes in 2018.

 “The situation has been very challenging in the past weeks, but also throughout 2019 due to out of stock medicine,” said ReLeaf president Andrew Bonello, speaking to Cannabis Health.

“Patients have also frequently complained that some of the medicine – when available – has a close expiry date, even after being out of stock for a long period.”

He added: “Patients have been asking us why there was no official communication from the Medicines Authority or by the Parliamentary Secretary. They highlighted that it is only when ReLeaf and other news portals reported the matter that local authorities turned their attention to their suffering.”

ReLeaf said they have asked multiple stockholders why medicinal cannabis is out of stock but have received conflicting information.

“Importers are explaining that the Medicines Authority requested additional tests, whereas the Medicines Authority explained that the importers are given ample notice regarding applications and compliance,” said Andrew.

“More recently, the Parliamentary Secretary Hon. Deo Debattista claimed that there is currently a global shortage of cannabis. We wrote to one of the leading European medicinal cannabis companies and they informed us that there is no global shortage – we are confused as to what is happening.

“It is difficult to understand what is being done to ensure the right to health of medicinal cannabis patients is being safeguarded.”

Patients are being left with few options, with only Bediol believed to be offered as an alternative to their medical cannabis prescription.

There is a considerable difference in THC levels between Bediol and Bedrocan and Pedanios.

The latter reach a THC level of 22 per cent, whereas Bediol is a CBD dominant strain of only 6.3 per cent THC.

“Any person with the minimum information about cannabis knows that high THC is required for chronic pain and cancer patients,” said Andrew.

“It is therefore baffling, why pharmacists were suggesting to medicinal cannabis patients to get a prescription for Bediol when Bedrocan and Pedanios were out of stock.”

He continued: “It is having a detrimental effect on the patients and potentially endangering their lives when using opioid based medications.

“Patients end up sourcing their cannabis from the illegal market, and thus being exposed to all the negative effects of the illicit market.

“The most tragic reality is that patients are not allowed to grow their own medicine or find a compassionate grower. This continues to further exacerbate their problems and gives no concrete alternatives to address their pain.”

ReLeaf has campaigned for Maltese patients to be allowed to grow a limited number of cannabis plants to ensure they have safe and more affordable access to their medicines.

Under the current system those who require large doses are paying between 500-900EUR a month for their prescriptions.

Meanwhile others are being barred from applying for medical cannabis all together.

According to ReLeaf anyone with a history of problematic substance use, who entered into contact with rehabilitation services, is being refused a prescription on the grounds that medicinal cannabis could lead them down a path to addiction.

“ReLeaf Malta feels that the current system is ostracising those who have already probably faced discrimination and isolation in previous years, said Andrew.

“It is also potentially endangering their lives if prescribed opioid based medications. Overall, it continues to confuse the local population as to what cannabis is and how it relates to the body and mind.”

Despite the stigma of using medical cannabis meaning many Maltese patients are reluctant to speak out, Andrew told Cannabis Health that several had come forward to say they had been affected by the current shortages.

“Various patients reached out to us and complained that they are being left in the dark by a system that is supposedly working to promote public health and their right to access medicinal cannabis,” he said.

“It is clear that the current system is not working in favour of patients’ rights and raises multiple questions on why the law was drafted in a very restrictive way, making it very difficult for patients to secure their right to access medicinal cannabis in an affordable and continuous manner.”