As cannabis policy reform continues to sweep the globe, Ireland has launched a medical cannabis pilot program, and Soma Pharmaceuticals founder Mike Sassano says it’s a market his company can’t pass up.
Soma is an offshoot of cultivation operations in Europe, and functions as an independent distribution arm for the cultivation facilities. Soma’s parent company has three cultivation facilities being built out in Greece, and operates Solaris Farms in Las Vegas, Nev.
Ireland Health Minister Simon Harris signed legislation June 26 that allows citizens to access cannabis-based products for medical use for five years, on a pilot basis. Called the Medical Cannabis Access Programme, the regime allows medical consultants to prescribe medicinal cannabis to patients suffering from “spasticity associated with multiple sclerosis, intractable nausea and vomiting associated with chemotherapy,” and severe treatment-resistant epilepsy, if the conditions have not responded to standard treatments, according to a report by The Irish Post.
Harris first proposed a medical cannabis program two years ago, according to The Irish Post, but its passage was delayed due to issues with finding a medical cannabis supplier to export products to Ireland. A supplier was confirmed earlier this year, The Irish Post reports, and the law allows commercial operators to supply medical cannabis products to Ireland if they meet specified requirements.
In order to have products approved by Ireland’s health authorities, an operator must first have a GMP certification, which takes about eight months to a year and about $1 million to secure, Sassano says. Approved products, he adds, will be in the form of tablets or tinctures, which reflects Europe’s perception of medical programs.
“‘Medical,’ to Europeans, is you go to your doctor, you get a prescription, you go into the pharmacy and you buy your product,” Sassano says. “There are no dispensaries. … They never smoked their medicine, so there’s not a medicine out there where you smoke it, you vape it. What you do is you go and you take a pill or you take drops, or something of that nature. … What I would imagine is Ireland is going to be very similar.”
Soma plans to bring a softgel capsule, a hard tablet and a tincture to Ireland’s nascent medical cannabis market, although Sassano said the program is still in its very early stages.
“For now, it’s so infantile, I think they’re just trying to get their arms around exactly how this is all going to happen,” he says. “Think about it like this: You can’t just send your product in an airplane, unsecured, through DHL or something like that. There are certain guidelines for transportation that will have to be adhered to in Europe. There will be certain storing requirements.”
The Netherlands will likely be one of the main exporters of cannabis to Ireland, Sassano says, and he anticipates that Ireland may launch domestic cultivation at some point in the future, although facilities will need time to get up and running.
“If indeed Ireland decides that they will also do cultivation, which they haven’t announced yet, then remember, it’s going to take one to two years just to get your first facility up and running and licensed, and [to] secure your perimeters,” he says. “[But] if you do have these ailments, you can’t just wait—you’re sick now. … So, under that scenario, you’re going to have to import currently in order to satisfy your medical patients, and then eventually, you could graduate to the other levels and distribution points.”
The Medical Cannabis Access Programme will be up for review in 2024, but Sassano says Ireland will likely adopt a permanent program.
“I think it has to go permanent,” he says. “If you look at the trends around the world—look at the epidemic of the painkillers in America. Look at these statistics, how states that have taken on an advanced cannabis program have dropped in their use of painkillers. … [Cannabis policy reform] has to develop more and more. … You’ve got to gradually increase it in order for acceptance to take hold and penetrate correctly. They’re well on their way. This is happening, and it’s happening at the right time."