14 August 2016

The Cayman Reporter writes….

Cabinet approves amendments for legalising cannabis oil

Premier Hon Alden McLaughlin has announced that Cabinet has approved changes to three key legislative to pave the way to legalise the importation and dispensing of cannabis oil for medical use.

Cabinet has approved amendments to legislation allowing the legalisation of cannabis oil for medicinal purposes.

This announcement, made by Premier Hon Alden McLaughlin on Thursday (11 August) afternoon, comes after days of public debate on the issue.

However Mr McLaughlin, in a two-page statement, announcing the decision hastened to add that Government “acknowledges that questions loom about how it would be sourced and dispensed.”

While local advocates for the legalisation of the oil, which is derived from the marijuana plant, may hail the announcement as a victory, the Premier reminded “there are still real and serious practical hurdles to obtaining and importing this drug because it remains illegal in many jurisdictions, including nearby Jamaica.”

He said the most recent versions of amendments to the Customs Law, the Misuse of Drugs Law and Pharmacy Regulations, which will soon be published, and are ready for debate in the Legislative Assembly when the House reconvenes late next month or early October.

“We have moved swiftly from a policy decision in May to being able to publish the bills shortly and then taking them to the next meeting of the House,” said Premier McLaughlin said.

A multi-sectoral stakeholder committee, he said, has also reviewed the proposed Bills as part of the policy development process.

With the passage of this law, he said, registered medical importers will be allowed to legally import cannabis oil, doctors will be able to prescribe and pharmacists will be able dispense the drug.

“In many respects we are a pioneer in this field. We have moved from investigation to policy approval to legislative amendments and will soon go to the Legislative Assembly over the course of a few short months. However, at all times we have appreciated that we must proceed responsibly ensuring that what is brought forward has the best possibility for effective outcomes without causing unexpected consequences,” he said.

The Office of Premier statement said that potential challenges remain for the application of the changes as “there is no agreed medical body of evidence that cannabis oil is curative for serious diseases such as cancer. There are also no agreed prescribed levels of the drug that can be used to treat such diseases.”

In fact on Thursday the Miami Herald reported that the Obama administration said it would keep marijuana classified as one of the nation’s most dangerous drugs, similar to heroin and LSD.

“The long-awaited decision by the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration keeps intact a 1970 law that lists marijuana as Schedule 1 drug, one defined as having no medical value. That runs counter to decisions made by 26 states that have already approved use of the drug as medicine,” the newspaper reported.

The Office of the Premier’s statement also pointed to this finding stating that given its continued illegality in both the United States and Jamaica, there are concerns around how cannabis oil would be sourced.

“On Thursday the Drug Enforcement Agency in the United States denied a bid to reconsider how it treats marijuana under federal drug control laws, keeping the drug in the most restrictive category for US law enforcement purposes.”

Just last week, the statement said, the Jamaican Government reminded the public in that country that marijuana in any form remains illegal.

“It remains for local doctors and pharmacists to use their own medical experience, judgement and research on how best to prescribe and dispense cannabis oil,” the statement said.

Despite the challenges, Government continues to believe, the statement said, that as the Premier stated in late May Government favours hope over fear and therefore is pressing ahead as fast as possible but in a responsible manner.

The decriminalisation of small amounts of marijuana and the legalising of its use, including the oil, remains on the Caricom agenda.

This week Opposition Leader Hon McKeeva Bush, addressing the ongoing debate, called for public feedback on the issue on his Facebook page which generated a healthy debate.

He wrote that there are a number of Caymanians who are suffering from different forms of advanced terminal cancer and a number of neurological, and mental health illnesses.

“There seems to be a growing body of medical and scientific research supporting the use of cannabis oil in treating many types of illnesses. I believe that the time has come for us as representatives to enter into dialogue regarding the use of cannabis oil for medicinal purposes. But we have to do so as a matter of urgency. Certainly persons suffering from life threatening illnesses should be allowed to do everything possible to treat their illness and extend the quality of their life in as speedy a manner as possible,” Mr Bush said.

He stressed that time is of the essence and “certainly if we believe that this oil can save a life we need to seriously consider amending the necessary law and schedule to allow our people to get access to this medicine.”

Last week Dennie Warren Jr, who originally first proposed the concept of cannabis oil for the treatment of cancer in the Cayman Islands, speaking on the Straight Talk radio programme, said his proposal was carefully thought out and considered, and because of the “narrow definition” that he sought, the relevant changes could have been achieved immediately, by the Cabinet, without further delay.

According to Mr Warren, “Drugs are regulated in the Cayman Islands by the Misuse of Drugs Law.  Section 3 of this law makes it an offence to possess controlled drugs unless authorised to do so.  Certain drugs however, such as cannabis, which is found on the list of controlled substances, can be prescribed by a medical doctor thereby authorising patients to be in possession of such otherwise, ‘controlled drugs’.

His comments, as well as those posted on social media, triggered a firestorm prompting the Premier and his Office to update the country on the progress of his announcement in May that revealed government’s intention to legalise the use of the oil.

Last year Jamaica decriminalised small portions of marijuana paving the way for the legalisation of the drug for medical purposes. Last month Germany announced that it will legalise cannabis for medicinal purposes early next year. A draft bill is in the process of being finalized.