Former health minister Godfrey Farrugia is trying to convince Maltese doctors to take centre stage in a debate about loosening Malta’s tough laws on medical marijuana.
Farrugia, now a Partit Demokratiku MP, is making use of a private Facebook group for Maltese doctors to urge them to delve into the subject, speak out about it and plan a public education campaign.
“I urge the Tobba Maltin [Maltese doctors] to delve into the subject, like [doctor] Andrew Agius did,” he said in a post seen by Lovin Malta. “Let us be prime movers in this notative field…it seems that a formal education programme is needed for doctors before embarking on a much needed public education campaign.”
A well-known Maltese doctor, whose name is being concealed by Lovin Malta for privacy purposes, responded saying he thinks “society will be worse off” if medical marijuana is made more widely available.
“I think that the first thing that needs to be done by the lobbyists and policy makers is to clearly define the distinction between use of cannabis for recreational purposes and the use of medicinal cannabis derived products,” he said. “In this case, more evidence-based scientific knowledge os definitely needed before endorsement by the medical profession.
“In the absence of this, I am sorry but I think liberalisation is just opening the doors to encourage the use of another harmful drug.”
Farrugia retorted by urging his fellow doctor not to conflate the issues of medical and recreational marijuana.
“A healthy professional debate on medical use has never been kickstarted,” he said. “Without mixing the two issues, there is room for more educated awareness and myths, misconceptions and exaggerated claims put to check
The role of the medical community together with public education campaigns is paramount. It is an opportunity that we should not miss.”
As health minister, Farrugia had called for the legalisation of non-smokable medical marijuana, but the final version of the new law ultimately turned out to be an extremely restrictive one. Indeed, not a single Maltese patient has yet been treated with medical marijuana since the Drug Dependance Act came into force in April 2015.
However, only he and family doctor Andrew Agius – who runs the Pain Clinic in Paola – have so far stuck their necks out in favour of greater access for patients.
As it stands, only the mouth-spray Sativex – which costs around €500 per 10ml – has been licensed but not a single pharmacy in Malta has yet agreed to import it. The Medicines Authority has confirmed that discussions are underway to extend the Drug Dependence Act to also include a synthetic form of CBD oil – a herbal remedy containing cannabidiol (CBD), one of two main active ingredients derived from cannabis.
20ml of the oil that is 5% synthetic CBD costs around €700, while the same volume of the oil that is 10% synthetic CBD will cost €1,500.
Agius has insisted that the priority should be to legalise natural CBD oil, which he argues is both more effective and ten times as cheap as the synthetic version.