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Spain Breaks Medical Cannabis Deadlock as New Health Minister Sparks Optimism

As Spain emerges from months of political deadlock, its newly formed government has at last made a meaningful commitment to break the country’s medical cannabis deadlock in turn.

Though his newly formed government has been hard won, sparking both protests in the streets of Spain and conflicts with Brussels, it puts in position a Minister of Health committed to making good on the previous administration’s commitments to establish a medical cannabis framework in the country.

According to Carola Pérez, President of the Spanish Observatory of Medicinal Cannabis (OECM), which continues to play a central role in the establishment of medical cannabis in Spain, this commitment marks a turning point in a now decade-long campaign.

“After 10 years working on this, the day that I see the document signed is the day I will celebrate. But today is also a day of celebration, because we have someone who really cares about patients, she’s also a specialist in pain.

“We are really happy because (the government) have said that they are going to consult with us in order to make things as good as possible. This is the first time we have heard this from the Spanish government.”

What happened?

Last week, the newly appointed Minister of Health, Mónica García Gómez, committed to rebooting the government’s long-promised plans to regulate medical cannabis.

Initially set to be implemented in January 2023, but repeatedly kicked into the long grass by the previous administration, then put indefinitely on the backburner since the snap election in July 2023, Ms García is now understood to have brought the issue to the top of her agenda.

According to local media sources, the health minister has met with the management team of the Spanish Agency for Medicines and Health Products (AEMPS) regarding the draft Ministerial Order it was tasked with preparing back in 2022, set to lay out an initial framework for regulation.

This draft has now reportedly been sent to the Ministry of Health, which has committed to holding a ‘round of meetings with groups that have worked on the issue’, primarily the OECM.

Ms Pérez told Business of Cannabis: “When she arrived at her position, the first thing she said was that (she) wanted to push ahead with this, because we have been waiting a year for the document from the AEMPS.

“Privately, we were beginning to think this document didn’t exist, but I talked to the General Secretary of the Minister of Health and he told me that yes, the document exists.

“She insisted the government was going to do this quickly, and they are going to consult with patients and experts. The previous government made promises, but we knew they were not going to do anything. Now we really believe that it’s going to happen. This is different.”

She added that Ms García, who hails from the left-wing and pro-cannabis Sumar party, has long been a proponent of medical cannabis.

Not only is Ms García a qualified anesthesiologist, combining her political work with her health care career since 2015, but she has long been engaged with the OECM, and was the first politician to meet with Ms Perez in 2015.

This positive view of the new health minister is shared across much of the industry. Don Bellamy, CEO of Spanish medical cannabis firm Linneo Health, added: “We are very encouraged that Spain’s newly appointed Minister of Health, Mónica García Gómez, has communicated the ministry’s intention to recover previously halted work made by the sub commission on legislation to regulate medicinal cannabis in Spain.

“This is important news and will likely be a relief for Spanish patients as legislation would be a huge step forward in providing them access to safe, high-quality medicinal cannabis products to manage their conditions. We look forward to continuing to be part of discussions with the government to make this a reality for these patients.”

While a date for the upcoming consultations has not yet been confirmed, sources on both sides suggest this will take place over the coming weeks.

A year-long delay

This process has now been in the works for over 18-months, but has suffered numerous delays due to Spain’s tumultuous political climate.

In June 2022, following over a year of research, a subcommittee tasked with investigating medical cannabis frameworks deployed throughout the world put forward its proposals for how a similar framework would look in Spain, with these proposals being greenlit in dramatic fashion later that month.

AEMPS was then given just six months to prepare a document with recommendations of how to fit this framework into the country’s regulations and ensure they were legally viable, with a view to rolling this out in January 2023.

However, this deadline came and went, with the government remaining tight-lipped about the reasons behind the delay. It was not until March 2023 when the issue was eventually addressed, seeing the government roll back on its commitments, stating that the available information was ‘insufficient’ to recommend its use.

Despite promises made by the government in May, in June the government confirmed that proposals for the rollout of a medical cannabis framework will not happen before the general election in July.

Josep Antòn Sànchez, Director of the Spanish Medcan/Decann clinic, explained that the ‘equality of results in the Spanish elections did not allow the Socialist Party to clearly position itself in favour of the option of cannabis, not even therapeutic cannabis. I believe that now the time has come to take a stand on an issue on which 84% of Spaniards agree, including the need for complete regulation.”

After an inconclusive election in the summer, the conservative Popular Party (PP) finished first but lacked enough votes to form a government, seeing its leader Alberto Nunez Feijoo lose a critical parliamentary vote to become prime minister in September.

The incumbent Socialist Party’s Pedro Sánchez announced in October that his party had come to an agreement with the far-left Sumar party, and against expectation managed to cobble together a working coalition with additional parties.

Mr Sànchez concluded: “I firmly believe that we have never been so close to legalisation, there are many open fronts right now, politically speaking, but it is clear that the common good that we are trying to defend, health, should be above political ideologies, especially now that there is enough scientific evidence… There will always be problems, we are running a marathon, not a sprint.”

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