Germany votes to ease access to medical marijuana

Germany's reform of its drug law means patients could even be reimbursed by their health insurance. [Shutterstock]

The German Bundestag today (19 January) unanimously passed legislation granting seriously ill patients easier access to medical marijuana. EURACTIV Germany reports.

The German parliament has passed a reform of the country’s drug law that will provide easier access to medical marijuana for therapeutic purposes.

In the future, seriously-ill patients that suffer from diseases like multiple sclerosis and cerebral palsy stand to benefit from the drug’s capacity to alleviate cancer patient nausea and promote appetite.

Patients with health insurance will also be eligible to have the cost of the drug reimbursed, if they have no other treatment options.

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German Health Minister Hermann Gröhe (CDU) said the development was “another step forward in improving palliative care”. Gröhe also said that the scientific benefits of medical marijuana use will be “accurately measured”.

Cannabis has actually been allowed for medicinal purposes since 2011 in Germany. But only a few patients were eligible for it under an exemption issued by the country’s drugs and medical products agency (BfArM).

Even those patients that had dispensation to use the drug often went without, after the German government claimed there was a “supply constraint” and production of the drug remained a criminal offence.

According to BfArM, up to 1,020 patients in Germany have a permit to use medical marijuana.

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Marijuana-derived medicines became legal on Monday (13 June) in Macedonia, which joined over a dozen European countries that have already authorised the products for certain patients.

In Germany, consuming marijuana (even for non-medicinal purposes) is allowed but possession is still illegal. Rules vary from region to region and punishments are not uniform across the country. In Berlin, for example, 15 grammes is allowed so long as it is not consumed in train stations or near schools.

Punishment also varies across the EU and wider Europe. In Slovenia and Switzerland, fines of between €40 and €200 are normally doled out but in Austria, drug users can face a six month prison sentence.

In Spain, the authorities will tolerate anything up to 40 grammes. Even in the Netherlands, which is Europe’s weed Mecca, cannabis is officially illegal. Only in certified coffee shops is the purchase of a maximum of five grammes decriminalised.