Above: Medical cannabis campaigner Vera Twomey on the march in Littleton. Photos from Gino Kenny’s Facebook page.
Her long march for medicinal cannabis put Cork Mother Vera Twomey in the news as she battles on behalf of her daughter. She’s returning to protest at the Dail this Wednesday and we’ve a feeling she won’t be on her own. Fergal Eccles and Beggars take us through the background to the Medical Cannabis Bill and fill us in on Vera’s incredible battle.
It’s hard to imagine that the campaign for the recent Medical Cannabis bill started almost a year to the day, March 3rd, 2016. Just a few months later in July, People Before Profit/Anti-Austerity-Alliance brought forward a bill to the Dáil. The bill, which was co-written by Help not Harm, would legalise cannabis product for medical use. As People Before Profit’s Brid Smith put it:
“Really what we are trying to do is to facilitate the use of cannabis and cannabis related products for medicinal purposes. These would be the ones that are already experimented on and would clearly have to be subscribed by a medical practitioner, particularly by a consultant.”
In these months support for the bill grew slowly. SSDP and Help not Harm began campaigning with Cork mother, Vera Twomey, whose daughter was suffering from a rare, treatment-resistant form of epilepsy called Dravet’s Syndrome. Her daughter, Ava, would often have dozens of seizures a day.
The introduction of cannabis as medicine in recent times in America saw large reductions in overdoses due to prescription pain-medication (which account for up to 40% drug deaths in Ireland). Beyond pain relief, medical cannabis has been proven an effective medicine at treating Epilepsy, Fibromyalgia and Crohn’s Disease and many, many more.
Vera Twomey became frustrated at the lack of action by the government to get access for her daughter. Simon Harris stressed that long-term cannabis studies, needed to approve the drug – like any other, had not been completed.
This is true – to a degree. Of course, the legality and red tape surrounding the study of cannabis has been a big contributor to this. With cannabis being classed Schedule 1 which are “substances considered by the state to have no medicinal or scientific value with consideration given regarding their likelihood of their being abused and thus would be considered illegal drugs.”.
Surprisingly, heroin and cocaine are actually lower than that at Schedule 2!
28 US States have legalised medical cannabis, opening access to tens of millions of people in a massive success. It has become clear that the illegal status of cannabis has caused aspects of the medical study of the endocannabinoid system to be ignored.
It’s clear that cannabis, although complex, has many far-reaching potential benefits. In any case, access should not be illegal for medical use. Vera Twomey and her daughter Ava are clearly not criminals. Vera Twomey felt disheartened by the minister’s lack of action and regard for her daughter, whose condition was only worsening. As Vera said:
‘”If we don’t get the legislation, we mightn’t have Ava for much longer”
Children with Dravet’s syndrome seldom grow to full adulthood. She sourced CBD oil, a legal cannabis extract, from the Dublin Hemp Co. This oil reduced Ava’s seizures, but lacking THC, was not totally effective.
Vera then began her biggest protest yet, her march to the Dáil from her home in Cork. The event attracted nationwide media. Simon Harris contacted Vera, and convinced her to put a hold on her walk, if she’d come to talk and he could find a solution. Vera took his word and accepted, vowing to march on the Dáil again if needed be. As Vera put it at the time:
“Minister Harris said he wasn’t comfortable with me continuing with the walk and I asked him what would he do if I stopped? He said he was going to do his best.”
Vera’s protest sparked a review of medical cannabis, ordered by Mr. Harris, into medical cannabis by the Health Products Regulatory Authority (HPRA).
Following this, People Before Profit’s Medical Cannabis bill was suddenly pushed forward to the 1st of December, 2016.This gave Help not Harm and SSDP just 12 days to rev up their campaigning, which had originally been planned to take place over 6 months. Nonetheless, after days of flyering, contacting politicians and making noise, the bill passed without opposition.
Politicians gave note the great work done by activists across Ireland. Similar to the passing of Same Sex Marriage, the bill drew much international attention to a country often viewed as strictly conservative. The passing signaled a changing of the political landscape in Ireland and possibly a change in drug policy.
After much celebration, the long wait to the release of the Health Products Regulatory Authority report began. Help Not Harm and People before profit continued to campaign, travelling Ireland. This included arranging interviews between the global medical cannabis industry leaders and the HPRA.
The Health Products Regulatory Authority’s report however, was highly limited. It did allow cannabis products for severe epilepsy, nausea associated with chemo-therapy and Multiple Sclerosis. Unfortunately, this left people using heavy-medication for pain relief and for others, cannabis would be unobtainable through legal means.
Vera’s march to the Dáil was widely supported along the way with a large crowd accompanying her in through the city. After reaching the Dáil she was invited in to meet Minister Harris and some senior civil servants. However, Vera was presented with four unworkable solutions and has opted instead for a fifth option: legislation. In light of the unsatisfactory outcome of Vera Twomey’s meeting with the Minister, there is a protest outside the Dáil planned for this wednesday March 28th to support People Before Profit Gino Kenny’s Cannabis for Medicinal Use Regulation Bill. In a video posted to her Facebook page last week Vera said:
“It’s a fright to god that there’s people on our own doorstep, there’s people all across Europe, there’s people all across the world getting access to medicinal cannabis for their families but that my child isn’t allowed to do that. That my child isn’t allowed access to something that’s, it’s a human right to have access to a medication to help your situation.”
The demonstration is at 7pm on Kildare Street this Wednesday March 29th. Make it medicine.