FLORENCE, Italy (Reuters Health) Mar 13 - Italy's national health system has been forced by a judge to allow the use of marijuana-based drugs. Venice's magistrate Barbara Bortot acted on Tuesday on behalf of a woman with terminal lung cancer.
The patient asked permission of the magistrate, since cannabis-based pain-killing drugs are banned in Italy.
Judge Bortot ruled that the right to health, decreed in article 32 of the Constitution, allows the use of the drugs. She ordered the local medical authorities of San Don di Piave, near Venice, where the woman lives, to obtain the drugs abroad and then provide them free of charge to the patient.
"When there is an insuppressible need for which the national health care doesn't offer alternative remedies, the individual's right to health imposes without limits or conditioning of any sort," wrote the judge.
It is the first time that Italy's national health system has been obliged to provide banned drugs free of charge.
While Canada, the UK, Spain, Australia, Holland, and some states in the US have legalised the use of marijuana as a treatment for chronic illnesses, in Italy there is no legal way to obtain it except through a magistrate.
Judge Bordot took into consideration the terminal illness of the patient. According to the magistrate, in this case "the massive use of pain killing drugs allowed in the country is totally useless and moreover can cause further damage."
According to the ruling, the San Don di Piave's local medical authorities will have 30 days to provide the patient with the drugs. Italy will probably request them from the Bureau for Medicinal Cannabis of the Dutch Health Ministry, according to the daily newspaper Corriere della Sera.
The ruling could pave the way for many other requests from patients with illnesses such as multiple sclerosis and epilepsy, said the Italian Association for Therapeutic Cannabis.
"It is a ruling that gets Italy closer to the rest of Europe. We hope
this will become a precious precedent for all those who claim the right
of using cannabis as a therapeutic drug," the association said in an official
© 2002 Reuters Ltd