Today theJournal.ie covered a story that many in the cannabis space in Ireland is aware of for the last year or so. That story is Minister Frank Feighan, the Minister with responsibility for our National Drug Strategy, who held private meetings with a well know anti-cannabis group, The Cannabis Risk Alliance (CRA). I have sourced the relevant documents pertaining to this story along with the timeline of events between Minister Feighan and the CRA.
Communications between the CRA began in June 2019, after their letter to the editor was published in the Irish Times in May 2019, this letter was also privately sent to Minister Feighan. In June 2019 CRA agreed to meet Minister Feighan to discuss “concerns regarding escalating cannabis-related harm in Ireland” and asked that this topic be given “immediate priority” under the National Drug Strategy. In their correspondence, the CRA express worry at the notion of legalisation and show a dislike that the discussion around cannabis is now more active in society, a problem which the CRA believe need to be solved.
In January 2021 a string of emails passed between CRA and Minister Feighan to schedule a meeting on the 26th of January. Minister Feighan himself asked the CRA to forward the agenda, allowing them to choose and direct where this discussion would go. On that agenda was “the importance of language when discussing medicinal cannabis”, given their May 2019 letter declaring that medical cannabis was a gateway to full legalisation, we can conclude that the group advocated retaining an overly restrictive MCAP to the detriment of patients as members of the CRA before having argued against the medicinal benefits of cannabis. They claim the term “medical cannabis” is misleading the public. They close their agenda by stating that “full transparency regarding funding and conflicts of interest is extremely important”, I will just leave that comment there and you can make your own minds up on that.
In February 2021 Minister Feighan writes to the CRA to thank them for an informative meeting and assures the CRA they have the Minister’s full support regarding cannabis and related harms. Minister Feighan further goes on to say he would be happy to have further engagement with the CRA and their important work.
In November 2021 a leading member of the CRA, Dr Bobby Smyth was appointed to the Oversight Committee of our National Drug Strategy when Minister Feighan established a new structure for the Committee. This new structure also led to the shock removal of the Ireland Chapter of the International Nurses Society on Addiction from the Committee. Following public outcry and media coverage, their representative was reinstated to the Committee.
While this activity is not contrary to the Lobbying Act 2015 as the CRA does not have any full-time employees, a condition that must be met under the act, it is still in my opinion a form of. Transparency Ireland has advocated closing this loophole which enables groups without employees to avoid being designated as lobbyists. Although no complaints about organisations or individuals using this loophole to hide communications. Lobbying is an important part of the policy-making process, it remains open to abuse revolving doors and incomplete information and scrutiny available. A great resource for lobbying standards is Transparency International Ireland's “ Responsible Lobbying: A Short Guide to Ethical Lobbying and Public Policy Engagement for Professionals, Executives and Activists.”
If you would like to lodge a complaint to Transparency Ireland, you can do so by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org
You can find the above documents on Crainn's reddit