KEEPING PATIENTS AT THE HEART OF POLICY
A crucial part of any medical cannabis programme is the patients. They often play a key role in convincing governments to implement such programmes through their advocacy, and their needs and concerns are of utmost importance when it comes to deciding what kind of programme to put in place.
Delegates at Cannabis Europa will have the opportunity to hear from influential medical cannabis patients from across the British Isles, Europe, and beyond. These include Clark French, Multiple Sclerosis sufferer and founder of the United Patients Alliance in the UK, who will be chairing our Patient Stories Panel.
Also in attendance will be Vera Twomey, a mother from Cork, Ireland whose daughter Ava suffers from a rare and devastating form of epilepsy - Dravet Syndrome. In response to the Irish government’s refusal to regulate medical cannabis, Vera caught the attention of the nation by walking 150 miles from Cork to Dublin in protest. Thanks in part to the publicity generated by Vera’s tireless campaigning, a bill was introduced to the Irish parliament in 2016 which seeks to legalise and regulate the use of medical cannabis in the Country. The bill has been supported by fellow speaker Luke Flanagan MEP.
The stories of patient-activists like Clark and Vera highlight the impact that a human face - particularly one that is suffering due to perceived government inaction - can have on policy.
As important as patient advocacy is in pressuring governments into making legislative change, patients are equally important when it comes to implementing policy that suits their needs.
Policymakers and academics must ask themselves what really matters to patients. Ease of access to their medicine? The ability to grow their own? A range of strengths, flavours, and cannabinoid ratios? In order to answer those questions, of course, they must find a way of asking the patients themselves; convincing them to overcome a resistance to openness that has been enforced by decades of prohibition. Failure to do so will inevitably lead to medical cannabis programmes that are not fit for purpose.
Medical professionals, whose knowledge of what has been for so long an ‘illegal drug’ is often inevitably stunted, must also be consulted and made aware of patients’ needs.
The best ways in which to overcome these challenges will be discussed at Cannabis Europa by those who have faced them in the past, those who are currently overcoming them, and those who are preparing to tackle them in the future. Medical experts including Na’ama Saban, head paediatric nurse at Tikun Olam, Dr Ife Abiola of 420 Advisory Management, and Genevieve Edwards of the UK’s MS Society will be joined by patients and activists including Clark French, Vera Twomey, and Jacqueline Poitras, President of MAMAKA, Mothers for Cannabis, in illuminating the ways in which such challenges can be met whilst ensuring that patients are kept at the heart of policy.