An interview with Piernicola Pedicini, MEP at the European Parliament
Could you give our readers a little background on your professional life and what led you to become an MEP?
I graduated from the University Federico II of Naples, first in Physics in 1998 and then in Medical Physics in 2006. Medical Physics is a branch of physics applied to the prevention, diagnosis and treatment of human diseases. Due to my professional background, I have working experience in various hospitals in both the North and South of Italy.
When elected as a Member of the European Parliament in 2014, I was working as a Medical Physicist in the Department of Radiation Oncology at the Institute for Cancer Treatment and Research (IRCCS) CROB in Rionero in Vulture, Potenza.
At the time, I had already been involved in political activities with the Five Star Movement for a few years, in particular defending patients’ rights and fighting for the local environment.
Now I am at my second mandate as an MEP and I focus on economic and monetary affairs, while still working on healthcare-related issues.
You are well known for supporting dialogue around ‘the use of cannabis for medicinal purposes’ within the European Parliament. What is the process behind getting a topic like this to the floor, so that it is widely debated amongst MEPs?
At the beginning of 2019, the European Parliament adopted a resolution aiming to highlight the potentialities of the cannabis plant for medical use. It was an important initiative to turn the spotlight on cannabis. After approval by the political coordinators of the relevant Parliamentary committee, the Committee on Environment, Public Health and Food Safety (ENVI), the resolution was drafted by the rapporteur and discussed internally among us co-sponsors. After it had been approved as amended by the ENVI committee, it arrived on the plenary stage.
I strongly supported the need for an informed and open debate on this topic at the time, and I still do. Unfortunately, the reply we got from the European Commission reflects the division we also had inside the Parliament between the supporters of medical cannabis only if it comes as an “authorised medicinal product”, and the supporters of all forms of medical cannabis, including cannabis preparations.
On the one hand, the resolution was a success, because such a controversial topic was brought to a plenary vote for the first time and the text was finally approved. On the other hand, it showed that there are still strong cultural barriers and bias against the use of raw cannabis and magistral preparations, which are nonetheless a reality in many Member States. I personally believe that we need reliable scientific data from the off-label prescription of raw cannabis too, not only from the use of medicinal products.
Now a global topic that politicians cannot ignore, due to the plant’s incredible medicinal qualities: how much opposition do you see in European Parliament regarding the roll out of medical cannabis? And why do you think this is still the case (for example, does the dialogue around medical and recreational cannabis become conflated)?
There is a lot of confusion even among politicians about what is medical cannabis and what is not. When people hear “cannabis” they think about “marijuana”, thus the legalisation of recreational use becomes the primary focus of the discussion. So yes, politicians can keep ignoring the topic if they want. I don’t foresee a discussion on medical cannabis on the Parliamentary agenda any time soon. We would be supporting it in case, of course. But with COVID changing all the European Commission’s priorities and considering that medical cannabis is seen as a national issue, I am not very optimistic.
I believe that there is support for cannabis-derived medicinal products but this is not an area where European institutions see any gaps, because these products already fall under the existing definition of a medicinal product laid down in the relevant legislation. Furthermore, this is seen as an issue for companies to be addressed in their research & development policies, and not as an issue of access to treatment for patients.
As far as cannabis preparations are concerned, only some Member States give patients access to cannabis for medicinal purposes in the form of magistral preparations, some others allow patients to access standardised cannabis preparations, but there are different regulatory frameworks in place. The first duty for politicians and governments should be to overcome the cultural barriers and misperceptions surrounding the cannabis plant and promote societal dialogue, while explaining the differences between medical cannabis and recreational marijuana, but also between medical cannabis and industrial hemp.
In order to gain more support for movements promoting the use of cannabis for medicinal purposes, what argument do you believe to be the most compelling for fellow MEPs (e.g. economic, health, crime & justice, environmental), and why?
That depends on the country they come from and the political ideas they represent. It is useless to present a strong environmental or healthcare case to the most conservative groups. They could only be convinced with arguments related to the economic advantages of growing medical cannabis “in-house” and being independent from imports, for example. Or discussing the possibility of promoting a free market approach where companies could be allowed to participate to tender for the growing of cannabis.
Green, more progressive groups are already aware of the benefits of the cannabis plant for the climate and the environment, but it is important to avoid confusion between the various uses of cannabis. If we are talking about medical cannabis, we need to address issues related to access to therapies and fairness of treatment in all Member States and inside each Member State. For example, in Italy we have different regulations in different regions. Each region can decide on the reimbursement of the product, and this has a strong impact on the affordability of the treatments.
You can hear more from MEP Piernicola Pedicini at the GCI Europe Virtual Summit.
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