The Associated Press
THE HAGUE, Netherlands (April 8, 2002 4:22 p.m. EDT) - A large majority of legislators in the Dutch parliament's lower chamber said Monday that they will support a bill backed by the government to legalize marijuana prescriptions for severely ill patients.
The lower house is expected to vote next week on the proposal to let doctors prescribe marijuana produced by government-regulated growers for medicinal purposes.
The bill also needs approval by the Senate, expected later this year, before it can take effect. If it is passed, two growers selected by the Dutch government will become the first legal marijuana producers in Europe.
Lawmakers from the three government coalition partners and the two largest opposition parties said Monday that they would approve the bill. The political makeup of the Senate is similar, so the bill is likely to be approved.
Health Ministry spokesman Bas Kuik said marijuana for medicinal purposes will probably be available in drugstores within a year or so.
Although the sale of marijuana is illegal, Dutch authorities tolerate the sale of small amounts in hundreds of so-called "coffee shops" that operate openly.
There are also plans to put marijuana on the national health care plan,
but initially the drug will only be free under special health insurance
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