Dutch government plans to put cannabis on prescription

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The Independent Online

In a country where marijuana is already cheaper than many medications, the Dutch government approved a bill yesterday that would allow pharmacists to supply cannabis on prescription.

In a country where marijuana is already cheaper than many medications, the Dutch government approved a bill yesterday that would allow pharmacists to supply cannabis on prescription.

Parliament was expected to vote in the next few months on the proposal to put medicinal marijuana on the national health care plan. If the bill is passed, the drugs would be quality-tested by a government agency before being issued.

Although the sale of marijuana is technically illegal, Dutch authorities tolerate the sale of small amounts in hundreds of so-called "coffee shops" that operate openly.

There, a gram of marijuana costs about 10 guilders (£2.80). Under the new law, most users would have the cost of their spliffs paid by the Dutch government if a doctor prescribed cannabis.

The draft legislation was proposed by Els Borst, the Health Minister, who pushed through the euthanasia law this year, saying it was better to regulate the existing widespread practice of mercy killing.

This time, a government statement said: "An increasing number of patients suffering illnesses such as cancer, Aids and multiple sclerosis receive medicinal cannabis." The law, it said, was needed to remove an "undesirable" contradiction between practice and law "despite lack of scientific evidence" of the effects of marijuana use.

Many patients using the drug without professional assistance had had successful results, it said. "Experiences are positive: less pain, less nausea after chemotherapy, less stiffness with MS," the statement added. The government cited legal medicinal use of cannabis in 19 American states and Canada and said many European states were considering following suit.

Prescription cannabis will be of "pharmaceutical quality" grown to government guidelines. The Netherlands is known to produces some of the world's most potent cannabis.

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