DUBLIN Ireland moved closer to legalizing marijuana for medicinal use when the minority government said on Thursday it would not block the first reading of a bill that is backed by all other parties.
Relaxing marijuana laws would signal a further acceptance of liberal values in once staunchly conservative Ireland. Last year Ireland became the first country to legalize same-sex marriage through a popular vote, having only decriminalized homosexuality and made divorce legal two decades ago.
Health Minister Simon Harris, whose government is not large enough to block legislation, said he would seek some amendments at a later stage pending a review of scientific and clinical advice that was commissioned earlier this month.
But he accepted the central objectives of the legislation introduced by left-wing opposition lawmaker Gino Kenny that would see Ireland join countries like Italy, the Czech Republic and Australia in relaxing its laws on medical grounds.
"While there are elements I do not and will not support, I don't wish to divide the Dail (parliament)," Harris said in a statement, adding he had made clear he wanted to see policy in this area reviewed.
"I share the concerns of patients who believe that cannabis should be a treatment option for certain medical conditions and I recognize the urgency and worry they feel."
Harris said he wanted to remove references from the bill that could have the effect of making it legal for anyone to possess cannabis, including for recreational purposes - changes Kenny said he would accept.
"It's been overwhelming, not only in the Dail, but to see the people who have contacted us and who are trying to access medical cannabis for themselves or their children," Kenny, a People Before Profit Alliance party lawmaker, told national broadcaster RTE.
"I even got emails this morning saying that 'if this goes through it will change my life'. If this can do something small for somebody, it's a very, very positive thing that's happened."
(Editing by Richard Lough)