DEPARTMENT of Health officials have been instructed by the Department of Justice to enact an EU agreement which allows people to carry legally prescribed narcotic or psychotropic drugs for medical use.
The move comes after Galway man Noel McCullagh, who uses a cannabis- based drug for multiple sclerosis, sought a guarantee that he wouldn’t be arrested for bringing it into the country.
McCullagh, however, lost his bid as the European ombudsman who said, although he was "deeply touched" by the case, had not found a breach of European law in the matter.
Mental Health campaigner John McCarthy who is suffering from motor neuron disease and uses cannabis to manage his pain and treat spasticity in his muscles said it is a disgrace that people cannot get proper advice on the matter.
"It is awful that people have to rely on supplies from friends, they don’t know where it came from, what it contains, how much to take and can’t get any advice on the matter legally."
Mr McCarthy said he has been getting at least one phone call a week since an Irish Examiner article last December, describing how he can get out of his wheelchair and walk short distances since he began taking small amounts of cannabis.
"These are people who are looking for a way out from pain and are afraid not of cannabis but of the law," he said. "It is complete nonsense that you have to become a criminal to take something which will relieve painful symptoms and give a better quality of life."
Mr McCarthy said an international symposium of neurologists were looking at his case and were due to report back in a matter of months.
"This is not going to make me better but life is made much easier for me and my family as I can get up and walk to the toilet, that’s a big thing for me."
Article 75 of an EU agreement — the Schengen Agreement — allows persons travelling within the EU to carry drugs prescribed for medical use.
The Department of Health is seeking expert clinical advice on the matter.
To give full effect to article 75, as instructed by the Department of Justice, it would be necessary to put in place a legal mechanism to retain the prohibition on the importation of cannabis while permitting EU travellers to import legally prescribed cannabis products.
The Department of Health said this will be examined "during the current year".
A medicinal product, Sativex, which is a mouth spray identical to whole- plant marijuana in liquid form, was recently authorised in Britain and Spain as an add-on treatment for symptoms of spasticity due to multiple sclerosis.
The product is licensed in Britain but not in Ireland.
By Jennifer Hough