Pull up stool.
Johnny Green has a story to tell.
Once upon a time in the West….
Well actually the year is 1997 and its General Election when Luke Ming Flanagan brought the campaign to legalise cannabis into mainstream politics in Galway East.
Luke adopted the name and look of the character Ming, which for the following decade continued to incite the ‘hey dude’ jaded stoner stereotype.
Luke persisted to openly waft this plume of comic book behaviour with publicity stunts like getting arrested for posting joints to Oireactas members in November 2001;
However, by 2004 Luke was a mainstream politician in Roscommon County Council, by 2010 Luke was Lord Mayor of Roscommon County Council, by 2011 Luke entered Dáil Éireann as a Poll Topping Hero. (Broadsheet readers might be interested to know that he was the only candidate from New Vision) a platform he shared with one John McGuirk no less, to be elected.)
Here is now where our storyline becomes a matter of establishment Ireland; when Luke Flanagan TD, stood up in Leinster house on the first Tuesday in November 2013 and introduced the motion;
“That Dáil Éireann calls on the Government to introduce legislation to regulate the cultivation, sale and possession of cannabis and cannabis products in Ireland. “
But the debate that followed promised its result; 112-8 nay:yay; “Not in my Gaff” as the proposer said himself.
There was to be no second reading as the bill lapsed with the dissolution of that Dáil and Luke’s subsequent departure to Brussels.
So all was all quiet throughout the land until 2016. Gino Kenny TD, introduced to you last week, brought his own Private Members Bill to Dáil Éireann.
By that November, the entire country followed and walked with Vera Twomey. Whether they agreed with Gino’s bill or with Luke’s earlier effort, it didn’t matter, every step Vera took was cheered on because she had a cause; and her cause could also be anyone else’s.
Within 24 hours of Vera’s first steps for Ava, Minister Simon Harris said:
’”Today I have announced a policy review in relation to medical cannabis and have asked HPRA to research this. area.”
The Joint Health Committee got their pre-legislative scrutiny underway; barely three weeks since Vera Twomey took the road to Dublin, the Committee Hearing got underway, and days later on the December 1, Gino’s bill was introduced to the Dáil
One calendar month is all it took, from Vera Twomey’s first steps to Gino’s Bill passing unopposed the 1st stage.
By the new year, January 2017: Health Products Regulatory Authority (HPRA) Report was published.
By February, the Money Message element to this Bill entered the debate; since this was never made to the Government and therefore not provided, the Select Committee stage; the Joint Committee on Health Report on Scrutiny of the Cannabis for Medicinal Use Regulation Bill 2016, to give it is full title; balked at further consideration, therefore they rejected the Bill.
The membership of the committee is interesting; it is clear from the report that they were squeamish about the consideration; however, the membership is interesting for the obvious conflicts present; most notably a Pharmacist in retail dispensary and a practicing GP who also chairs the committee.
It was claimed that the Health Committee voted to reject Gino’s Bill on a number of grounds, one being fear over ‘diversion’ or cannabis falling into the wrong hands.
This is the politics of fear, insinuating unsubstantiated dark web style consequences, rather than adjudicating facts and balancing simple pros and cons.
I have been unable to secure any confident information on the vote or votes undertaken by this Committee. In the absence of the required Money Message to allow the Bill to proceed, the Select Committee rejected the Bill and all but dissolved its terms of reference for the report; so, quite possibly it has not been subjected to further journalistic scrutiny.
That is not my role either, but it is worth asking why Kate O’Connell TD appointed herself as spokesperson for this task when she bares an undeniable conflict of interest; and why her statements have not been interrogated by the opposition or the Media, or even her constituents.
Before we travel further along this timeline, the Money Message requirement deserves to be fully understood.
While it is basically an operating procedure for the Ceann Comhairle and his standing orders rule book; its direction comes straight from S17.2 of the Constitution. It may not have been commonplace until recently as for decades Governments were in a healthy majority position, so it was not generally exercised since they had the numbers to vote Private Members Bills down at the 1st stage.
Simply put, if a private members bill, like Gino Kenny’s, will cause a new expenditure on the Exchequer, and this said item has not been allocated a line item in the most recent Finance Bill, your annual Budget, it has to get a permission slip from the Taoiseach to proceed to 2nd stage, the Select Committee stage.
I am aware that the current Ceann Comhairle Seán Ó Fearghaíl is very anxious to halt its use by the current Government as a legislative back line,and has actively sought to address it with the current Taoiseach. Unfortunately, like above, Broadsheet readers will have to stay tuned in to watch this space.
So here we are now up to October last year; Gino Kenny TD asked Minister Simon Harris for an update. This all looks like the Government are now providing for Cannabis for Medicinal Use; But they have nothing to add beyond the disclaimer.
Then you can hard be surprised that Dr Harty, the chair of the Select Committee that confounded the bill within a trifle of mixed messages, asked Minister Harris when the Money Message would be signed off to allow the Bill to proceed; here was a suburb example of not answering a question without anyone noticing.
Yet, since the Health Committee produced its report and that Minister’s question, a budget has been introduced by this Government and voted on by the Dáil.
So why didn’t Gino Kenny, and the Bill’s co-sponsor Bríd Smith lobby for it to be included in Budget 2019? Why hasn’t anyone else?
Or maybe concerned special interests have lobbied to keep it suspended in Money Message purgatory.
So here we are to January 2019, Minister Harris grants a license to import Cannabis.
A recent sitting of the Health Committee which Minister Simon Harris attended heard this from Kate O’Connell:
“I know it has now been halted by the absence of a money message. Eminent psychiatrists, GPs and addiction experts are stating one thing. It would be helpful if Mr. Reid would outline the difference between legalisation, decriminalisation and harm reduction.
I really object to the word “medicinal” being used in respect of cannabis. It is a controlled drug. Until it gains evidence to justify the medicinal name, then we are just dealing with a schedule 1 drug.”
In the meantime, take this stalled Bill up with your local representatives, and figure out a way of getting it into the Health Budget for 2020, and take out the Money Message for good.
Johnny Green will attempt to keep Broadsheet readers up-to-date on the growing cannabis industry worldwide. Follow Johnny on twitter for even more updates.
Illustration by Alan O’Regan