While Irish officials begin looking toward liberalizing the country's marijuana laws, a group of physicians working in Ireland are urging lawmakers to reconsider.
A group of physicians have formed the new Cannabis Risk Alliance to lobby the government against legalizing the drug for medical use. Signees include some of Ireland's top doctors, such as Dr. John Hillery—former President of Ireland's College of Psychiatrists—and Dr. Ray Walley—former President of the Irish Medical Organisation.
Walley in particular has argued that the push towards reforming cannabis laws in Ireland is being driven by business interests more than public health concerns.
"I'm concerned about the dishonest debate out there. Society, politics, the medical fraternity, too—we're sleepwalking into this. The only place you read about cannabis now is in the business sections," Walley told The Irish Times.
Now a total of 20 doctors in Ireland have signed a letter calling efforts to legalize medical marijuana in the republic a "one-sided discussion" that "has been a gross failure to communicate to the people of Ireland [the] harms which are being caused by cannabis."
"We are opposed to [legalization] as we strongly feel that it would be bad for Ireland, especially for the mental and physical health of our young people," the letter reads.
The doctors claim that loosening the country's cannabis laws will lead to more young people developing "severe mental disorders particularly psychosis," increased rates of addiction and and issues with cognitive functioning. The letter also raises concerns around smoking cannabis and lung health.
However, the fear of cannabis use leading to psychosis has been thoroughly debunked in recent years. And while there are some legitimate concerns associated with cannabis consumption in youth, teen use has actually dropped in most US jurisdictions with legal cannabis. Meanwhile, individuals who are concerned about cannabis' effects on lung health can easily avoid smoking by using a number of smoke-free methods of consuming cannabis such as edibles or topicals.
So it's not surprising that advocates for medical marijuana campaigners have begun to push back against the doctors' claims.
Vera Twomey, whose young epileptic daughter has been at the centre of Ireland's debate on cannabis legalization, said she was "devastated" by the letter's statements. She believes that doctors need only look at the massive improvements medical cannabis have made in her daughter's life to understand why patients need greater access to the potentially lifesaving drug.
"She's at school today, she's thriving, she hasn't been admitted to hospital in two years. Now she's having a life free of pain," Twomey told The Irish Times.
Similarly, Irish Member of Parliament Gino Kenny - who drafted the Cannabis for Medicinal Use Bill - said the letter misrepresents the issues at hand and calls it "an insult" to people like Twomey.
"Prohibition has failed. Let's control and regulate and take it out of the hands of unscrupulous dealers," said Kenny. "It is nonsense that it is a gateway drug."
At the end of last year, Irish Health Minister Simon Harris promised to make legalizing medical marijuana in the republic "a major priority" in 2019. And, back in June, Ireland's head of state Leo Varadkar said decriminalizing the use of cannabis was "under consideration."