A Irishman suffering from Multiple Sclerosis (MS) can’t come home because his medication includes cannabis-based drugs.
Noel McCullagh, originally from Ballinasloe, Co Galway, has been told by the Irish authorities that he will be arrested if he attempts to bring his legally prescribed medication, Bediol and Bedrocan, prescribed in Holland, into Ireland.
The social inclusion unit of the HSE have told the 33-year-old that he will be arrested if he attempts to come home to his family for a visit with the medication.
But Noel McCullagh is adamant that he is not making a ‘political football’ of the issue; his life is at stake. Without the medication he is crippled with pain, at risk of convulsive seizures, and in danger of a deadly bout of encephalitis, which took the life of his baby sister Carmen.
Mr McCullough, a journalist who lives in Holland, previously required a walking stick to get around, but thanks to his medication he now cycles everywhere, and he swims 2km a day.
Appeals to the Minister for Health, the HSE, and dozens of politicians of all persuasions have fallen on deaf ears.
“I have been inside the police cordon, with a television crew putting questions to Brian Cowen, while taking my medication in Brussels, but I wasn’t allowed to come to Ireland to cover the Lisbon Treaty referendum,” he says.
Mr McCullagh has charted every element of his battle with the Irish authorities to be allowed return home and visit his parents Michael (70) and Ann (66), in Ballinasloe, Co Galway.
“It is 1,104 days now, every night and every morning, three times Christmas, and three of my mother’s birthdays. It is very distressing for me on an ongoing basis. It plays on my mind a lot.
“Three years ago, when I first got in contact with the Department of Health I was given the complete runaround and one official even said to me, ‘can you not leave the Jamaican woodbines with the prossies in Amsterdam?’
“Even though this medication is prescribed and managed by my neurologist I’m still not welcome with it in Ireland,” Mr McCullagh says.
“I want to be very clear that I am not campaigning for cannabis or the legalisation of cannabis. I am on the strongest cannabis ever engineered by man and it is only prescribed as a last resort alternative for people with Aids, cancer, chronic spinal injuries, Crohn’s disease and MS. It’s prescribed as a medicine and anyone who thinks there is some advantage in this should be careful what they wish for,” he says.
Replying to a parliamentary question from Joe Costello TD on January 27 this year, Minister of Health Mary Harney said: “As the law currently stands, however, it would not be possible for a cannabis extract to be licensed here for medicinal use or for a doctor to prescribe it.
“There are no exemptions or exceptions applicable. Any person entering the country with medicinal cannabis could be charged under the Misuse of Drugs Act with unauthorised possession and I do not intend to change the law in this regard.”
This week a spokesman for the Department of Health reiterated the minister’s position as set out in the Dail.
“Currently, cannabis is included in Schedule 1 of the Misuse of Drugs Act as it is regarded as having no medicinal use and its possession, sale, importation etc is prohibited — not by Social Inclusion Unit — but by the law of the land. The Department of Justice has responsibility on the Schengen issue,” according to the Health Department spokesman.
By JOHN WHELAN