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The first cafe for medical cannabis patients due to open in Northern Ireland

The space will provide a safe meeting spot for patients while offering a variety of different vaporisers such as a Volcano.

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Irish cannabis activist, Alan Robinson is set to open Northern Ireland’s first cannabis cafe. It aims to give patients a safe space to meet.

Alan Robinson, who goes by the name NI CannaGuy on social media, is set to officially open the cafe in Co. Antrim, in the next few weeks. He has been advising people on medical cannabis while working to reduce the stigma.

Alan grew tired of meeting people in cafes and coffee shops so decided to open a place where medical cannabis patients can meet. It will provide a safe space where those with a prescription can meet to consume cannabis.

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Speaking with Cannabis Health News, Alan said: “It’s a lounge where people with a private script for medical cannabis can come, share their experiences and knowledge with other people. Not only that but they will be able to use the Volcano, the dry herb vaporiser.”

Alan touched on a common problem for those who use cannabis flowers, the price of vapes. It can be confusing for newer patients when choosing a vape and daunting when they view the price. Alan also highlighted even if people choose to buy a larger, more expensive vape such as the Volcano, that some patients may feel uncomfortable having it in their homes.

“The clinicians advise to vape the flower but the best ones on the market are over £300. We have a volcano hybrid for people to come and use which is retailing at £500. Those who are paying that for a private script don’t have it again to spend on apparatus which is really what they should be using,” He said.

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“Some people are using the cheaper, handheld vapes that are just awful and it’s no fault of the person, it’s just the price of these things. Some of the smaller ones will waste your medicine more than allowing you to get the use out of it.”

He added: “I thought to myself, these people need a place to go where people feel safe and secure while knowing what they are doing is legal. I’m hoping it will raise awareness for others and hopefully break the stigma.”

Northern Ireland: A collection of dry herb vapourisers

Alan has been busy preparing the cafe, called Stay Medicated, which is located in Ballyclare, Co. Antrim for its official opening. As well as the Volcano, he also has other vapes for people to use. It also provides patients will a valuable chance to test the machines before deciding if they want to invest in the more expensive options.

The store will be the first legal space for medical cannabis patients in Ireland. There are currently only CBD vaping spaces available.

Alan said: “There are plenty of CBD shops that have popped up over here with vaping facilities. There are not a lot of people in Northern Ireland with a private prescription but it’s on the rise and people are contacting me every day with medical questions. I’m not a doctor so it would be great to be able to put two people with similar problems in the same rooms for a tea or coffee.”

Police Service of Northern Ireland

How do the police feel about the establishment of a cannabis cafe? Alan explained that they are focused on the high levels of organised crime and less interested in prescription holders.

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“The police service of Northern Ireland (PSNI) are fighting organised crime more than they are fighting us. Hopefully, this will be a big step in getting cannabis away from organised crime and taking the stigma away.”

Alan hopes that maybe the premises will encourage the police to visit in order to get educated about the benefits of cannabis.
He said: “Maybe one evening they can come in and we can have a discussion about the endocannabinoid system. I’ve had numerous discussions with police about cannabis and it’s not the problem, if anything, it’s alcohol.”

“The reality of it is, we have a physical space where we are paying rent, bills and it will be secure with locks and buzzers. In general, it’s going to be a hive for the community to come and learn all about the medical side.”

Running a space for cannabis consumption does not come cheap with rent needing to be paid, bills keeping the lights on and the cost of licenses for food or drink. How does Alan anticipate the club will make ends meet?

‘I’ve thought about how to do it. Are you going to charge people coming in the door? Or have things for them to buy? We are definitely thinking of some form of membership for people with a private script so they can identify themselves to the staff without having to whip out a prescription in front of others.”

Northern Ireland Cannabis Compassion Club

At the time of speaking with Cannabis Health News, Alan had just received the keys to the premises. As well as being a medical cannabis patient himself, he has a long history of cannabis activism and helping patients particularly those with cancer.

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“I have chronic pain, anxiety and depression. Unfortunately, when people see me on social media, I’m always happy and smiling but when the cameras are off, I can be very different. Cannabis has helped me to kick anti-depressants and a Tramadol addiction.”

He added: “I run the Northern Ireland Compassion Club which provides medical oil to cancer patients. Whenever I meet someone who is getting their medication, I have to meet them in a cafe which is risky. People are disclosing really private information to me which is the last thing they want to be shared across a busy Starbucks. So when the opportunity came up to get a unit in Ballyclare, I thought it would be a start.”

As well as a space for discussion, the cafe will also provide education on cannabis for both patients or anyone who might be canna-curious.

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US Congresswoman speaks out about how cannabis helped her depression

Nancy Mace spoke out about using cannabis to help her depression after experiencing a traumatic event as a teenager

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Image credit: Nancy Mace/Instagram

A Republican congresswoman who has proposed a federal bill to legalise cannabis has spoken out about her experience using cannabis to combat depression.

Nancy Mace, a republican politician from South Carolina appeared on Fox Business’s ‘Kennedy’ show to talk about the bill which would legalise cannabis but would also focus on veteran access.

It also includes expungement for non-violent cannabis crimes and imposes a revenue tax that would support reinvestment into communities hurt by the war on drugs.

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The bill titled the States Reform Act would federally legalise and tax cannabis has been proposed ahead of competing Democrat proposed bills. While the bill was originally proposed in July, Mace shared her story after officially filing the State Reform Act in November.

At the end of the discussion, host, Lisa “Kennedy” Montgomery asked the congresswoman if she smoked cannabis.

Nancy replied: “When I was 16, I was raped. I was given prescription medication that made the feelings I had of depression worsen, and I stopped taking those prescription drugs and I turned to cannabis for a brief period of time in my life.”

She added that she believed her experience with cannabis made her more sympathetic to veterans who may use cannabis for conditions such as post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

Bill protection for veterans

The congresswoman explained that the new bill is “particularity protective of veterans, ensuring they are protected, not discriminated against and that the US Department of Veteran Affairs can utilise cannabis for their PTSD.”

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She added: “When I talk to vets and I see that pain, it hurts because I felt that pain before in my life. Veteran suicide, we see every single day.”

One other provision in the bill is that cannabis would be under the Treasury Department’s Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau (TTB) instead of the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). The FDA would have some involvement similar to its current control over the alcohol industry.

Bill history

Mace has already won an exception for rape and incest victims in a fatal fetal heartbeat bill. She mentioned her history when it came to proposing that bill in 2019.

She said: “I’ve had family that have overdosed from hardcore opiates and prescription drugs. And I’ve mentioned part of this in 2019, at the time I got the exception for rape and incest in the fetal-heartbeat bill I told my story about being raped when I was 16, but I’ve never said this part publicly before: I was prescribed antidepressants afterwards, and it made my feelings a lot worse. And so I started using cannabis for a brief moment, for a time in my life. It helped me. It cut down on my anxiety and helped me get through some dark periods.”

 

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First patient set to receive cannabis products on Ireland’s MCAP programme

CannEpil is the first drug available through the programme but has yet to be prescribed

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Ireland HSE offer medical cannabis
CannEpil was announced as the first drug to be made available through the programme

Earlier this year, the Irish Health Service Executive (HSE) has announced that the first cannabis-based products will be available through the Medical Cannabis Access Programme from mid-October.

Despite an update from the Irish health service (HSE) and Health Products Regulatory Authority (HPRA) that CannEpil would be prescribed by the middle of October, the first prescription has been delayed.

People before Profit TD for Dublin Mid-West Gino Kenny tweeted that the first prescription should be available from next week.

The HSE has yet to confirm that the products will be available from next week but says they would not be aware until the consultant neurologist has issued claims at the end of the month.

In a statement to Cannabis Health News, a press officer at the HSE stated: “The HSE has registered three patients under the MCAP in recent days. We would not be aware whether the consultant neurologist has proceeded with prescribing for an individual until claims were submitted from pharmacies at the end of the month.”

He also raised the issue in the Dáil earlier this month to Taoiseach, Michael Martin.

“Many families would have been very joyous during the summer when the medical cannabis access programme was to commence. But sadly, in a PQ response today, not one patient has been given access thus far. That is a huge disappointment to those families that this treatment could make life-changing benefits,” he said.

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“So what do you say to families that feel let down by the program and now they have to look at other treatments and probably getting no treatment at all?” He asked.

Michael Martin replied that a lot of patients have been facilitated by the original ‘imported license’ but he was unsure as to why patients had not availed of the MCAP. He promised to follow up with the Minister for Health, Stephen Donnelly of Fianna Fáil.

Gino announced changes to the Cannabis Regulation and Control bill that he is due to submit. It will now take place next year with a focus on production and consumption for personal use.

HSE committee meeting

In a joint committee meeting held in September, CannEpil was announced as the first drug to be made available through the program from mid-October.

Ireland’s Health minister Stephen Donnelly announced funding for the Medical Cannabis Access Programme (MCAP) in January, almost two years since the legislation was signed off in June 2019.

The programme will offer access to cannabis-based medicines to people living with one of three qualifying conditions. These include intractable nausea and vomiting associated with chemotherapy, severe treatment-resistant epilepsy and spasticity associated with multiple sclerosis (MS) where patients have failed to respond to authorised treatments.

The meeting saw officials from the Department of Health and the Health Products Regulatory Authority (HPRA) outline the current state of the MCAP programme and the Ministerial License system.

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The suppliers of two products, CannEpil and Tilray are said to have confirmed their prices to the HSE, but Tilray has yet to announce its availability date.  Two more cannabis-based products have been added to the schedule but suppliers are not thought to have current plans to supply the Irish market.

Morris O’Connor, the assistant national director of primary care reimbursement, announced that two additional products were expected to be added to the schedule in the coming weeks and that the programme may be extended for longer than the initial five year pilot period.

He stated: “There are currently four cannabis products on the schedule and two more to be added to schedule one of the regulations in the coming weeks. I understand that one of the products in the schedule namely CannEpil is expected to be available in October, subsequent to the introduction of the necessary legislation.”

According to Lorraine Nolan the chief executive of HPRA, since the MCAP regulations came into force in June 2019, 34 applications have been made for cannabis-based products.

Of these four cannabis oils have been placed in schedule one of the regulations, and two dry herb products have completed the final HPRA review and are awaiting a ministerial decision. Five are currently under active review.

Nolan commented: “The first cannabis-based products are expected to be made available to Irish patients through MCAP in October 2021. Once these are accessed by Irish patients, the HPRA will receive any reports of suspected adverse events and review them for any signals of concern regarding the safety of the product.

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“The HPRA will also have a role in investigating any quality issues that may arise and coordinate any action that might be subsequently required.”

Doctors are asked to register patients who may benefit from this treatment to the HSE including the condition they are being prescribed for.

The HPRA will be monitoring patients for adverse effects over the coming weeks once the medication is available.

The MCAP programme has been criticised by patients who are still waiting for access to products despite the introduction of the scheme in 2019 under then Minister for Health, Simon Harris.

O’Conner also highlighted that 192 ministerial licenses have already been issued for 67 individuals who access medication from the Netherlands.

In July a direct funding scheme was announced to remove the need for patients to pay for these prescriptions up front and then apply for reimbursement from the Government.

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Irish politicians receive cannabis in mail to mark National Legalise Cannabis day

The letters outlined the reasons why legalising cannabis in Ireland needs to be a top priority for government officials.

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Two hundred Irish TDs received a letter outlining the reasons for cannabis legalisation and a roll-up in the post sparking an investigation

The cannabis was sent by An Póst by leading cannabis activists to mark National Legalise Cannabis Day in Ireland. The cannabis was accompanied by a letter outlining ten reasons why cannabis should be legalised and made accessible. Cannabis activists including Cannabis Activist Alliance, ReLeaf CBD Café, and Martin Condon from the podcast Martin’s World shared images of the letters online before sending them to ministers.

Two hundred letters containing cannabis roll-ups and edibles were sent to ministers including the President of Ireland, Michael D Higgins. A further forty were sent to members of the media and senators. Mary Lou McDonald of Sinn Fein was even sent a tricolour roll-up.

In a statement online, those involved encouraged other cannabis consumers and activists to get involved in the action.

“To mark the 20th anniversary of this event the Martins World Podcast, The Cannabis Activist Alliance and the ReLeaf Cafe have teamed up to recreate this event. Cannabis containing joints will again be posted to every TD and Senator in Ireland. With the joint, we will include a letter about the campaign and 10 reasons why Cannabis prohibition should be ended (there are thousands to choose from). We encourage anyone who wants to get involved to do so. It will only cost you the price of a stamp and envelope.”

Some of the benefits listed in the letters included the creation of jobs, open access for patients and researchers, the end to the discrimination faced by patients and also the protection of minors with the introduction of regulation.

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Irish cannabis market

While the letter highlighted the reasons why cannabis should be legalised in Ireland, it also gave a stern warning about the dangers of buying cannabis from an unregulated market.

“As this product was sourced from an unregulated market, you as a consumer have very little protection. There is no guarantee that this joint contains any cannabis. If it does contain cannabis you as a consumer have no idea as to the potency of the cannabis. This makes dosing incredibly difficult and could put you at risk.”

The action has sparked an investigation by Irish authorities after scanners at the ministerial buildings failed to recognise the substance. It was reported that nearly all of the Green party received a letter along with members of Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael.

Irish ministers response

Most of the ministers have not confirmed if they have or have not received the letters. However, Cathal Crowe, a Fianna Fáil TD for Clare posted a photo of the letter on Twitter confirming he had received one.

Irish Green party councillor, Oliver Moran also received a letter and tweeted his response. “Many thanks for including me in this action—and for the prudent warning that potency and content are unknown when drugs are purchased from an underground market.”

November 5 was declared  National Legalise Cannabis Day by Independent TD, Luke Ming Flanagan back in 2001. The letters campaign was created to mark the 20th anniversary of this.

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Ireland’s cannabis reform

The campaign comes amidst criticism that the Medical Cannabis Access Programme is still not functioning despite reassurances that Cannephil would be available from mid-October.

People before Profit TD for Dublin Mid-West, Gino Kenny raised the issue in the Dáil to Taoiseach, Michael Martin.

“Many families would have been very joyous during the summer when the medical cannabis access programme was to commence. But sadly, in a PQ response today, not one patient has been given access thus far. That is a huge disappointment to those families that this treatment could make life-changing benefits,” he said.

He added: “So what do you say to families that feel let down by the program and now they have to look at other treatments and probably getting no treatment at all?”

Michael Martin replied by saying that a lot of patients have been facilitated by the original ‘imported license’ but was unsure as to why patients had not availed of the MCAP. He promised to follow up with the Minister for Health which is currently Stephen Donnelly of Fianna Fáil.

Gino also announced changes to the Cannabis Regulation and Control bill that he is due to submit. It will now take place next year with a focus on production and consumption for personal use.

Image credit : Martin’sWorld

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