Cannabis in Ireland:

History, Laws & Business Opportunities

Ireland continues its 1,000-year relationship with cannabis by maintaining a medicinal cannabis program and seriously considering legalizing the recreational use of cannabis.0

If you’re interested in the Irish cannabis landscape, here’s what to know about the history of cannabis in Ireland, as well as the country’s current cannabis laws and business opportunities.

The History of Cannabis in Ireland

Ireland’s history with cannabis reaches much further back than one might imagine. The earliest archaeological evidence shows that hemp was used in Ireland over 1,000 years ago. Though hemp is not native to Ireland, it came to the country through migration, global trade, and war. The Dublin City Archives even has a piece of hemp cord on display that dates back 850 years.

Hemp cultivation was also strongly encouraged by Queen Elizabeth I in the 17th century. Hemp was used by British factories and the Irish textile industry and was in such high demand at the time that the British began to forcefully take hemp products from the Irish.

In the 19th century, Irish doctor Sir William O’Shaughnessy experimented with hemp resins and advocated the myriad health benefits from cannabis plants. But despite the early widespread acceptance of cannabis in Ireland, it was officially outlawed in 1934 when Ireland passed the Dangerous Drugs Act.

It was not until 1998 that cannabis was legalized in any capacity, and in 2003, the first Irish pharmaceutical companies to have access to cannabis began health trials for medicinal cannabis extracts.

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Current Cannabis Laws in Ireland

Personal-use cannabis in Ireland remains illegal under the Misuse of Drugs Act — it’s illegal to buy, sell, or cultivate cannabis. That said, the Irish government has taken a more tolerant approach to punishing low-level, first-time cannabis offenders.

Typically, offenders are punished by fines up to 1,000 euros but can increase exponentially with larger amounts of cannabis. If you’re caught in possession of cannabis three or more times, you can be sentenced for two to five years in prison, and fined up to €2,500, or both.

In November 2022, a bill to decriminalize personal-use cannabis in Ireland was presented before the Dáil (the Irish legislative body). According to Forbes, the debate over the bill is expected to take place in early 2023.

Medicinal cannabis in Ireland, on the other hand, was legalized in 2014. It didn’t open the Irish medicinal cannabis floodgates, though, because the law was drafted with only one cannabis product in mind: Sativex.

Now, there are four medicinal cannabis-based products authorized by the Dáil: Aurora High CBD oil drops; Aurora Sedamen Softgels (5mg THC per capsule); Tilray Oral Solution (1% THC/1% CBD); and CannEpil (0.5% THC, 10% CBD).

Current Irish medicinal cannabis laws were signed into law in June of 2019 as part of a five-year pilot program. The Medical Cannabis Access Program allows doctors to prescribe cannabis-based medicines to patients who meet specific requirements. All cannabis is dispensed through licensed pharmacies or dispensaries and is limited to the approved medications.

With the spread of medicinal cannabis programs throughout Europe and the rest of the world, it is possible that medicinal cannabis access could be improved in the future.

Higher Yields Consulting Cannabis in Ireland: History, Laws & Business Opportunities

Ireland’s Medical Cannabis
Access Pilot Program

In 2014, the Irish government legalized the prescribed use of a cannabis-based drug called Sativex. But it wasn’t until 2019, when the Irish government instituted its five-year Medical Cannabis Access Programme, that a number of cannabis-based medicines were legalized in Ireland.

This pilot program, which expires in 2024, allows doctors to prescribe cannabis-based medications to patients suffering from a limited number of serious medical ailments (multiple sclerosis; nausea and vomiting associated with chemotherapy; and severe, refractory [treatment-resistant] epilepsy).

Access to this program is fairly limited, and patients must not have responded well to traditional therapy options for their conditions in the past.

If you’re an aspiring cannabis entrepreneur with an eye on Ireland, a cannabis consultant can help you navigate Ireland’s cannabis laws and start the process of entering the Irish cannabis industry.

Higher Yields Consulting Cannabis in Ireland: History, Laws & Business Opportunities

What to Know About
Ireland’s Cannabis Market

Cannabis and cannabis-based products have been on the rise throughout the European Union (EU). Hemp has been legal for many years, so long as it has less than 0.2% THC, and Ireland has had a fully operational hemp supply chain since the 1990s.

However, while most countries in the EU have seen their hemp industries explode, Ireland’s took a nosedive, falling by over 40% since 2020. This is mostly because of the Irish government wavering on subsidies to the hemp industry and some uncertainty in Irish law.

What is most concerning for the Irish hemp industry is that on Nov. 9, 2022, the Irish high court struck down a challenge by the hemp industry that argued the Irish government’s recent ban on THC-containing products violated EU law. This places the Irish hemp and cannabis industry in jeopardy.

Nevertheless, the European Cannabis Report predicts that Europe’s medicinal cannabis market will be worth 2.3 billion euros by the end of 2026. With consistent growth throughout the EU countries, you can be sure that the Irish medicinal cannabis market will likewise follow suit and continue its growth in the future.

If you’re interested in taking advantage of Ireland’s five-year pilot program, contact the professionals at Higher Yields Consulting whose decades of combined cannabis consulting experience will get your Irish cannabusiness on the right track.

Getting a Business License for
Medicinal Cannabis in Ireland

Medicinal cannabis is regulated according to the Misuse of Drugs (Prescription and Control of Supply of Cannabis for Medical Use) Regulations 2019. If you’re interested in taking part of this limited but growing industry, you can start by taking the following steps:

  • Cannabis producers interested in selling their cannabis products in Ireland will need to apply to have their product(s) considered for inclusion. Here’s a current list of authorized cannabis-based products.
  • You’ll be required to obtain and renew your licensing on an annual basis in order to possess, supply or offer to supply medicinal cannabis in Ireland.
  • You’ll also need an importation license, since cultivation activities in Ireland are extremely limited.

Because of the various licenses you’ll be required to possess to import or export cannabis in Ireland, it’s highly advisable to work with an expert cannabis consultant.

Higher Yields Consulting Cannabis in Ireland: History, Laws & Business Opportunities

Business Licensing

If you’re leaning toward starting a hemp business in Ireland, you’ll face a different set of restrictions and requirements. Hemp is legal in Ireland, as well as throughout the EU, when it is less than 0.2% THC. Plus, Ireland is known for its incredible agricultural setting, which could make hemp cultivation ideal.

Licenses are processed by the Department of Health’s Health Products Regulatory Authority (HPRA), and to obtain a hemp cultivation license, you must be a farmer or registered company and meet acreage requirements for your cultivation property. Cultivation is also limited to a number of approved seed varieties.

If you wish to apply for a license, you can email the Hemp Federation of Ireland outlining which license you are applying for and your purpose for growing the hemp product. In response, you will receive an application form from HPRA.

Higher Yields Consulting Cannabis in Ireland: History, Laws & Business Opportunities

Business Opportunities
for Cannabis in Ireland

If Ireland’s five-year pilot program is any indicator of its future cannabis market, now could be an excellent time to enter the country’s growing medicinal cannabis program or take part in its flourishing hemp industry.

For aspiring cannabis entrepreneurs looking to get a foot in the door of Ireland’s cannabis market, contact Higher Yields Consulting today. Our cannabis consultants can help make your cannabusiness dreams a reality!

Last updated: March 20, 2023

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