A Summary of Cannabis in Ireland

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By Joan Eberhardt

Ireland has an active movement to end the war on drugs in that country and create viable medical and recreational markets for cannabis. Currently, the Irish government does not recognize any medical benefits for cannabis, but a license to grow for research purposes can be obtained through the Minister for Health. In fact, since 2003 GW Pharmaceuticals has permission to produce a cannabis-based medicinal extract for controlling multiple sclerosis and cancer. While everyone is Irish on March 17, the country has a long history with cannabis and should see some progressive developments in the coming year.

Irish History of Hemp Production

Irish farmers were growing hemp as far back as the 17th century, when it was taxed by the Hogshead unless “Oath be made before the Commissioner that it is of the Growth of Ireland”. Queen Elizabeth I, after she had gained control of the island, demanded Irish hemp be used to produce ropes and sails for the British Navy. The Irish textile industry had been using the nation’s hemp and wool in its fiber productions, so the English confiscated their wool. (Hemp ropes were later used to hang Irish rebels, which seems kind of harsh.) In fact, there were plans to drain Irish bogs, to create more arable land, to grow more hemp, but when Napoleon’s Armies receded, and the immediate threat was gone, those plans were scrapped.   

Chemist William O’Shaughnessy

Right around this same time Limerick-born chemist William Brooke O’Shaughnessey was working in India where he was a member of the Medical and Physical Society of Calcutta. O’Shaughnessey is widely considered to be the man who introduced Cannabis Indica to Western medicine. He spent no small part of his career studying the medical effects cannabis had and publishing papers on the findings. In England he successfully used cannabis resin to calm the wrenching muscle spasms of patients with tetanus and rabies. While the resin did not cure the conditions, he did report that most difficult symptoms were aided by the use of cannabis resin. He was later knighted by Queen Victoria, but that was for his work installing 3500 miles of telegraph cable across India.

A shift in the government’s approach

There is presently no legal cannabis on the Emerald Isle, however, the country’s drug minister did say that there will be a radical shift in the way the government treats cannabis, heroin and cocaine. Chief of the National Drugs Strategy, Aodhán Ó Ríordáin, said there will be efforts made decriminalize drugs and remove barriers that prevent addicts from seeking treatment. “I am firmly of the view that there needs to be a cultural shift in how we regard substance misuse if we are to break this cycle and make a serious attempt to tackle drug and alcohol addiction,” Ó Ríordáin told The Irish Times.

Luke Ming Flanagan

Perhaps the biggest cannabis advocate out of Ireland today is Luke “Ming” Flanagan, a native of Roscommon County, he unsuccessfully ran for office several times until 2004. Local media had not taken him seriously (a byproduct of the heavy use of marijuana imagery in his campaign ads and the fact he takes fashion advice from Ming The Merciless, which is not even a joke you guys.) In 2001 he made headlines when he mailed 200 cannabis cigarettes to sitting legislators. After he served on the Roscommon County Board, he was elected Mayor of Roscommon County Council in 2010. The following year he was elected to represent the county in the Dáil, the lower house of the legislature. Upon election, he took a 50 percent salary cut and encouraged other representatives to do so as well. He made headlines when he wore a suit made from hemp, on the Dáil floor. The following year, he took 100 percent of his salary and distributed 50 percent to projects in Roscommon County, saying he did not trust the government to handle the funds appropriately. Today, he serves in the European Parliament as an independent representative of the Midlands-North-West constituency. He is great at Twitter.


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