Dr Miriam Dalli MEP explains her views on why European patients should not be blocked from accessing medical cannabis products and her thoughts on what needs to change for this to become a reality
Dalli has been a Member of the European Parliament since 2014. She is the Socialist and Democrats Co-ordinator for the committee on Environment, Public Health and Food Security and over the last four years has been committed to the health sector; gaining recognition as MEP of the year for public health in 2017.
Since assuming her position in the European Parliament Dalli has been a forerunner in advocating for liberalising policy on medical cannabis and has actively campaigned for investment into emerging sectors in general calling on the Commission to make more funds available for research and development in these areas.
Whilst in attendance at the Medcann World Forum in Malta where Dalli was presenting the keynote speech, Medical Cannabis Network sat down with her to discuss recent developments in European medicinal cannabis policy, the importance of women’s role in the space and her hopes for the future of medical cannabis.
How and when did you first become aware of the potential benefits of medicinal cannabis and why is it such an important issue for you?
It’s an important issue because I speak a lot to patients who were prescribed this medical treatment, or they wanted this medical treatment, but they are not granted access to it. I see the frustration in their eyes, and I see how it changed some people’s lives and how other people are looking at this as their one and only hope.
My main interest is making sure that patients have access to the treatment they want. I believe in empowering patients; it is not a question only of doctors prescribing the medication they want. It also has to be a two way dialogue between the patients themselves and doctors. This is why I’m such an advocate of this medicine and treatment because I believe that it can help patients and make their lives better.
What is required in your opinion before Europe will implement continent wide legislation on medical cannabis; there are estimates that it could happen in 18 months, do you think that’s overly ambitious?
I think the key is to fund proper research and scientific data. Medical professionals need to rescind the hesitancy and begin to trust medical cannabis, although I do understand that there are scientific people who need to know the data that backs the benefits of this medicinal product. It is also important to be aware of the side effects and potential consequences of this medication because ultimately it will not help every single person.
I completely understand a patient’s frustration when they are aware that this treatment exists but cannot access it due to hesitancy in the medical community, but it is important that we all contribute equally. It is good to have legislation in place, but unfortunately legislation does not necessarily result in benefit to the patients.
You previously called on the Commission to invest more in research into the potential benefits of medicinal cannabis. What was the immediate response to that, and have you seen any evidence of attitudes towards investing in research beginning to change?
Not really – I think we need to push harder. We need to ensure that there are specific funds allocated to medical cannabis advancement. We are speaking about a treatment that exists, but we need to actually invest in it. It is all about education, advocacy, and further research – these are the three main pillars that I believe we need to build on.
I haven’t seen as much progress as I would have liked to see. I wanted to see progress much sooner, but it is possible that this issue has been on the back burner. I am hopeful that with our new European Commission, we can prioritise progress on this issue.
Do you think Horizon Europe might be able to allocate funding towards this?
If you look at the funds that were allocated when it comes to Horizon Europe, we saw that it was lacking in this area. I still believe that things can be changed, and we can have more research and funds going in the right direction.
So much of the medicinal cannabis industry is spearheaded by women; do you have any thoughts on why it is that women are finding their feet in this industry and how does it set the industry apart in terms of advantages?
This is an innovative industry and sometimes when you have an innovative industry you have more women coming forward. It is also because it is an industry or an area where we find that people are self-medicating which has changed the scenario to an extent.
I think we need to make sure that the benefits certain people experience are regulated. Ultimately, we need regulation that drives investment, maintains high standards and ensures high quality. We don’t want regulation that stifles innovation or hampers the industry; hopefully we’ll see more women driving this.
Miriam Dalli MEP