The main objective of a new European Parliament intergroup is to tackle the stigmatization that patients now suffer in accessing cannabis-based medicines and treatments, according to the socialist MEP Alex Agius Saliba.
On Tuesday (18 May), a new cross-party initiative bringing together over 40 European lawmakers attentive to the issue of medical cannabis in the EU had its inaugural meeting.
In an interview with EURACTIV, one of its leaders explained that the harmonisation of national laws on access to medicinal cannabis is at the top of the group’s agenda.
“It does not make sense to keep treating patients who direly need these prescriptions as second, third, or fourth class patients,” the Maltese lawmaker Agius Saliba said.
He stressed that there should be no difference between a prescribed cannabis-based drug and any other prescribed drug at EU level in order to avoid different sets of rights depending on where patients come from.
Some of the MEPs who have joined the new group come from EU countries such as Germany and Malta where strong medical cannabis legislation is already in place.
“These colleagues could bring good practices from their countries and we can see whether their models can be replicated horizontally in the EU,” he said.
Some member states like France and Denmark have started pilot schemes for medical marijuana use while others like Germany adopted a more institutional approach by creating specific government agencies.
Asked which model he envisages for Europe, he said he would opt for the more structured system adopted in Germany but that the issue is, at the moment, premature.
“The biggest problem is that we cannot pick and choose between the pilot project system and the structured one, as we are starting from the scratch at the EU level,” he said, adding that the first priority must be establishing basic definitions and a set of minimum standards, and then implementing them.
The new medical cannabis alliance will seek to advance the demands of a resolution that the European Parliament adopted in 2019 in which MEPs called on the EU executive and national authorities to provide a legal definition of medical cannabis.
“That resolution was very important and carried a strong message. But, frankly speaking, nothing has really changed since 2019 when it comes to definitions, harmonisation, and better access to medical cannabis,” said Agius Saliba.
He recognised that a number of valuable initiatives so that medical cannabis is no longer a taboo subject are being undertaken by the likes of Portugal, Germany, and Malta.
“On the other hand, at the EU level we are still lacking common definitions when it comes to very basic elements of the matter,” he said.
Hopes were high that Germany’s EU council presidency in the second half of 2020 would address medicinal cannabis at EU level, as Germany is currently the most advanced European market for hemp products for therapeutic purposes.
However, that was derailed by the need to focus on combating COVID-19. But for the Maltese MEP, the EU cannot always hide behind the pandemic to keep the topic off the EU’s health agenda and deny basic health rights to medical cannabis patients.
“I’m seeing a lot of cross-party willingness from MEPs to continue to raise awareness and not to have simply non-binding resolutions as we had in 2019,” he added.
The new medical cannabis alliance brings together two separate initiatives, one launched on World Cancer Day (4 February) by a group of socialist MEPs and another led by Green MEP Tilly Metz and the liberal lawmaker Frédérique Ries.
“We’ve decided to join forces, as it doesn’t make sense to have two separate, concurrent initiatives, but basically advocating for the same thing,” said Agius Saliba.
The new intergroup, which gathered around 40 MPs from different political parties, will start meeting and collaborating with EU umbrella organizations and NGOs, as well as with the industry.
“But our main aim is to be representatives of patients and their rights,” he said, adding that usually this kind of alliances are supported by one umbrella organisation.
“We want to have wider representation and more contact with NGOs representing patients’ voice while collaborating with the industry when it comes to research and legislative harmonisation,” he concluded.
[Edited by Benjamin Fox]