Spain will soon have a long-overdue regulation of medical cannabis in place. This may be good news for the sector, but will the upcoming law measure up to industry and patients’ expectations in one of Europe’s most liberal societies, even when it comes to recreational drug use?
As anticipated by CannIntelligence, the optimism in Spain’s cannabis sector over the appointment of the country’s new health minister, Mónica García, was justified.
In the past few days, during her first appearance in Congress, García announced the government’s intention to sign off a bill for the legalisation of medical cannabis in the next months.
According to García, “Spain cannot remain on the margin of international advances in this field, and this is why it is imperative to approach this issue with scientific rigorousness, ethical responsibility and also with social sensitivity.”
Cannabis back on the government’s agenda
The minister also said the new law will transpose the guidelines approved in June 2022 by the Congress’s Sub-commission on Health and Consumption, which then gave the Spanish Agency of Medicines and Medical Products (AEMPS), the government’s drug agency, six months to integrate them.
After that deadline was widely missed amid the political turmoil that led prime minister Pedro Sánchez to call for early elections last year, a deadlock following the vote’s uncertain results frustrated hopes that a law on medical cannabis would again be included in the government’s agenda anytime soon, despite being mentioned in Sánchez’s Socialist Party (PSOE)’s electoral manifesto for the July 2023 poll.
This is why the appointment of García, known for the stance of her party, Más Madrid, in favour of even broader cannabis legalisation – including adult recreational use – was welcomed with relief by the industry.
García, though, made it clear that the medical cannabis regulation will be based on a very strict sect of guidelines – the ones approved by the Congress’s commission, which were already harshly criticised by some industry operators when first published.
Limited access to therapeutic cannabis
To begin with, the draft rules only regulate the use of therapeutical cannabis for pain treatment in relation to certain conditions, such as multiple sclerosis, some forms of epilepsy, cancer, sickness from chemotherapy and chronic pain.
Only doctors specialising in these pathologies are likely to become entitled to prescribe cannabis-based drugs, and those would only be available for patients through hospital pharmacies.
Some industry stakeholders told CannIntelligence they feared these restrictions would jeopardise patients’ access and that they may even fuel the black market.
Although the Congress commission’s report will have to be translated into an implementable set of rules by the AEMPS, no crucial changes in the text are expected at this stage.
Too little too late?
The draft to be approved by García, though, will have to go through the parliament before it becomes a law and, although parties in the government majority coalition are in favour of the legalisation of medical cannabis, there can be no certainties over the timeline of this process.
In other words, when Spain finally regulates the medical cannabis sector, changes may fall short of the needs and desires widely expressed by Spanish society and arrive with a substantial delay compared with other European countries where they were perceived as less needed.
– Tiziana Cauli CannIntelligence staff
Photo: Maksym Pozniak-Haraburda