Government has warned there are no guarantees that cannabis oil will be available to patients in the Cayman Islands – even after medical use is legalized.
Premier Alden McLaughlin said his government would push through the necessary legal amendments to allow importation and dispensing of the marijuana-derived product.
But he acknowledged that while the drug remains illegal in most countries, including under federal law in the U.S., there are concerns about how cannabis oil would be sourced for import into Cayman.
“There are still real and serious practical hurdles to obtaining and importing this drug because it remains illegal in many jurisdictions, including nearby Jamaica,” he said.
The premier said planned amendments to the Customs Law, the Misuse of Drugs Law and Pharmacy Regulations would go to the next sitting of the Legislative Assembly, likely in October.
The announcement follows pressure from campaigners, including cancer-sufferers on the island who believe the treatment may represent their last chance.
However, a statement from the Premier’s Office also cautioned that cannabis oil was unproven as a cure for cancer and would be available only with a doctor’s prescription.
It stated, “Challenges remain as there is no agreed medical body of evidence that cannabis oil is curative for serious diseases such as cancer. There are also no agreed prescribed levels of the drug that can be used to treat such diseases.
“It remains for local doctors and pharmacists to use their own medical experience, judgement and research on how best to prescribe and dispense cannabis oil.”
Despite those concerns, Premier McLaughlin said Cabinet had approved the necessary amendments ahead of the House debate in late September or October. He refuted suggestions from some cancer patients and their families that government had not moved quickly enough since his announcement in May that cannabis oil would be legalized for medical use. He said government was moving as swiftly as possible in a responsible manner.
“In many respects, we are a pioneer in this field,” said Mr. McLaughlin. “We have moved from investigation to policy approval to legislative amendments and will soon go to the Legislative Assembly over the course of a few short months. However, at all times we have appreciated that we must proceed responsibly, ensuring that what is brought forward has the best possibility for effective outcomes without causing unexpected consequences.”
He said a committee that includes medical professionals had also reviewed the proposed bills as part of the policy development process.
In the U.S., the Drug Enforcement Administration announced late last week that marijuana would remain illegal under federal law “because it does not meet the criteria for currently accepted medical use in treatment in the United States, there is a lack of accepted safety for its use under medical supervision, and it has a high potential for abuse.”
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has also not approved botanical marijuana for any use, stating on its website: “This means that the FDA has not found any such product to be safe or effective for the treatment of any disease or condition.”
Dennie Warren, whose wife was diagnosed with incurable stage four lung cancer in May last year, told the Cayman Compass last week that survivor testimonies about the impact of cannabis oil had given his family a glimmer of hope.
“I understand it doesn’t work in every single person and if it doesn’t work for my wife, at least we know we tried everything. I would hate if she died and we never got the chance to do it,” he said.
“I believe individuals have the right to be in control of their own life, including matters of treatment.”
Mr. Warren, along with MLA Cline Glidden, made a presentation to government in November last year, asking for the law to be altered to allow doctors to prescribe cannabis oil to patients.