Medical cannabis may be legal in Malta – but you’d be hard-pressed to confirm it if you spoke to a number of patients and doctors in the field.
Three years on since the island legalised the plant, and patients continue to deal with out-of-stock medicine, delayed approvals and uncooperative officials, leading to some patients reverting to adverse behaviour as a result.
Just today, police had to be called into a Safi pharmacy after a patient with a prescription tried to get their medicine… only to be told that there were only two tubs of it left, and they were both reserved for someone else.
The patient became aggressive, leading to an unacceptable situation for both the pharmacists and the patient, and one that could be easily remedied if authorities took the patient’s needs more seriously.
Constant and unmitigated delays
To access one’s medical cannabis, patients need to get regular re-approval from the Office of the Superintendent of Public Health, headed by Professor Charmaine Gauci with Victor Pace as the office’s pharmacist. He is in charge of vetting applications.
Once patients receive a prescription from a doctor, they’ll be entered into the Office’s registry, with every relevant detail included in their entry. A very controlled system, it can often lead to major delays or even outright refusals over applications, to the detriment of patients.
“I’ve had patients’ applications refused even though they were sent over a week before the previous permit expires,” one Maltese doctor told Lovin Malta. “Applications are then delayed for three weeks or longer and patients are inevitably left without medicine on a regular basis.”
“When we tried calling the Office to clarify, we were told that we’re wasting their time, and that will all these applications coming in, they cannot keep up with our applications…”
After years of dealing with this, doctors have been left feeling that as far as the government is concerned, medical cannabis patients are the lowest priority, and that authorities are doing their best to avoid approving applications.
“This leaves patients at the mercy of government employees who feel like they may have more important things to do,”
However, more and more people are speaking out.
One Maltese MEP, Alex Agius Saliba, who has worked to provide better access to patients when they need it, is speaking with doctors and patients to potentially offer support.
“But until then, I have patients who have been waiting for over a month for approval, and they aren’t the only ones. But apparently, the Superintendent’s office has more important things to do…”
Never-ending out-of-stock issues
One patient who spoke to Lovin Malta detailed how useless it felt to have gone through the application and get approved, only to be regularly told there’s no medicine.
“Why is it that I’m prescribed something that isn’t available?” they asked. “What other medicine do you have to order and wait for days or weeks for just because the pharmacy won’t just order 20 or 30 cans of each and leave them stocked?”
“It’s so odd – you spend time and money seeing a doctor, get the stamp, get signed and approved and then it is turned over to a system, be it the government’ health authority or simply dealing with a pharmacy and its hurdles,” they said.
“It’s become clear that people who are overlooking all of this are not totally committed or sold on the idea that this is medicine,” they lamented.
Between feeling ostracised by the government and some pharmacists, finding constant barriers to accessing their medicine and regularly finding their medicine isn’t even stock after getting through all of that, patients are at their wits’ end as to what to do beyond resorting to the black market
However, let’s not forget what Malta’s Parliamentary Secretary for Consumer Affairs and the man overseeing Malta’s Medicine Authority said to patients when there was a drought last August – anyone who turned to the black market when the government isn’t able to do its job is resorting to “witchcraft”.
Lovin Malta reached out to the Office of the Superintendent of Public Health but received no response.
Do you have any hope that Malta’s medical cannabis patients will ever get the treatment they deserve?