THE Isle of Man’s 83,000 inhabitants could soon gain access to medical cannabis for the first time as the Department of Health & Social Care (DHSC) prepares to launch a new pilot scheme.
On March 31 2022 the DHSC announced that it was looking to partner with an on-Island community pharmacy to import and dispense Cannabis Based Medicinal Products (CBMPs).
While the Crown Dependency has fought to pull ahead of the rest of the UK in terms of cannabis regulation, passing a law in January 2021 allowing the cultivation, distribution and export of cannabis, it remains nearly impossible for its inhabitants to access CBMPs.
This new pilot is set to see that change, and could provide an opportunity to fix some of the issues affecting the medical cannabis industry across the UK.
The DHSC has been seeking applications via an online procurement portal from March 30 to April 20 2022.
According to the official Isle of Man Government website, it is seeking to operate a pilot for a ‘minimum of 12 months’ in order to provide privately prescribed CBMPs to the island’s inhabitants.
A spokesperson for the Isle Of Man Government said that ‘it is anticipated that the contract award will be issued in May, with the pilot service operational for August. This is however dependent on mobilisation planning.’
Applicants must meet a number of criteria in order to be considered. This includes owning an on-island premises to stock and dispense products.
“The successful organisation will be assessed on a quality criteria that insists upon the provider having a local dispensary outlet on the Isle of Man.”
They must also hold all necessary qualifications, certifications and licences to handle controlled substances, and be able to provide clinical advice and support to patients.
It also stipulates that applicants will be required to work closely with the Department to monitor levels of service and dispensing frequency, and be responsible for all due diligence and government checks.
A ‘Wonderful Opportunity’
Changes to UK law brought about in November 2018 allowing specialist clinicians to prescribe medical cannabis also extended to the UK’s crown dependencies, including the Isle of Man.
Since then the UK’s medical cannabis patient base has expanded rapidly. Figures from Prohibition Partners’ most recent European Cannabis Report suggest the number of unlicenced medical cannabis products dispensed via private prescription skyrocketed 425% last year to 23,466.
Despite this, the DHSC has so far issued no import licences to the island, making the importation of CBMP’s to the island effectively illegal, and leaving many potential patients without access.
Steve Oliver, Co-Founder and Director of The Canna Consultants, who were contracted by the Isle of Man government to draft the legislative and regulatory structure for the industry, explained that as it’s not currently legal to bring cannabis medicine onto the island the Government will have to fundamentally change this system.
“That gives them a wonderful opportunity to look at the mistakes that have been made.”
However, he raised concerns that as the Crown Dependency does not currently have its own medicines regulator, it could favour players from the mainland who have already secured approval from the MHRA and established reliable supply chains.
Furthermore, with a population under 100,000, the potential private patient demographic would unlikely be wide enough to sustain a business catering solely to the indiginous.
Should they follow this route, effectively cloning the model used across the UK, it would be a ‘missed opportunity to improve the system’, which requires patients in need to pay hundreds of pounds a month of their own money to access CBMPs.
Mr Oliver suggested he would have liked to have seen the government reach out to patients rather than just businesses to establish the issues with the existing system, while potentially introducing ‘philanthropic’ schemes to offer pro-bono assistance for some patients in exchange for data which could be used to inform clinical trials.
“What I would say is positive is that while they’re encouraging people to make licenced applications on the island, if you bring in somebody from outside the island who has the monopoly, let’s say for supplying the indigenous market, that’s not very encouraging for people. So what they are doing is limiting this to a year’s trial.”
Matt Lawson, Co-Founder of The Canna Consultants and Trustee of the I Am Billy Foundation (a Foundation administered with Charlotte Caldwell, mother of Billy Calwell, which aims to increase patient access to medicinal cannabis and is involved in trials seeking to collect Real World Evidence of the efficacy of CBMPs) added: “This gives a real opportunity to patients on the Isle of Man to contribute to the growing body of evidence charting the positive outcomes from CBMPs and for the Isle of Man to mark itself as a leader in the collection of such data – but it must be targeted as those with a true need for such medicines, rather than those with the capacity to pay for it.”