The distribution of medicinal marijuana has begun in Cyprus with doctors across the island having already begun handing out prescriptions for cannabis oil.
However, prescriptions can only be given to cancer patients who have requested and been given permission by the Health Ministry.
The Cyprus’ Friends of Cannabis group, meanwhile, has pointed out that cannabis oil is of vital importance to hundreds of patients, from those with serious ailments including cancer to those experiencing minor, everyday complaints such as headaches.
Speaking on behalf of the movement, Petros Evdokas said cannabis oil was being distributed to specific pharmacies in each town.
“Orders are for specific, named, people. This medication is not handed out en masse,” he said.
Evdokas said only ailing people with a doctor’s prescription have access to the product adding that “procedures are watertight and there are very good safeguards in place”.
In practice, imported batches are only for specific cancer patients who have requested and been awarded permission by the Health Ministry.
Evdokas noted that while the current law does not mention the necessity of a prescription “the Health Minister [George Pamboridis] quite rightly requested that it only be given out on prescription”.
Doctors of any specialty can write out these prescriptions.
However, the Friends of Cannabis group is not without complaint.
Evdokas noted that “unfortunately almost half of the applicants died before they received their medication,” referring to cancer patients who had asked for medical cannabis.
Huge delays in the process meant that many of them never had the opportunity to use it to ease their symptoms.
“The Minister is not exercising his powers to the full, only to the tragic minimum,” Evdokas complained, suggesting political and ideological reasons as well as private interests were also behind delays in getting the cannabis oil to Cyprus.
He called for a state Medicinal Cannabis Programme to be created to help speed up procedures.
Evdokas also suggested that Cyprus had the ideal climate to grow cannabis and noted that it had been grown here for thousands of years: “It is no accident there are communities called Kannavia in Nicosia and Kannaviou in Paphos”.
“By legalising the cultivation process, in less than two years Cyprus could become the medicinal cannabis capital of a large part of Europe, producing enough for local needs and exports and adding a new branch to its medical tourism product,” he added.
Cyprus introduced measures to provide medical cannabis to patients after a young athlete suffering from brain cancer took his case to the Supreme Court.
Giorgos Michael, 19, died the day after the court granted his request for access to medicinal marijuana.
Evdokas meanwhile, suggests the state was even before then obliged to give patients, and, he said, all citizens, access to medical cannabis. “It is the state that is breaking the law, not the people,” he said.