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Dutch Will Distribute Marijuana for Medical Purposes

Mar 18, 2003
By Andrew Conaway
Reuters Health

The Netherlands this week for the first time is to begin allowing doctors to prescribe medical marijuana for their patients, and will begin supplying the drug later this year.

The change will allow doctors to more closely follow their patients, since they will no longer be under the threat of prosecution, which previously had been enforced by the Healthcare Inspector General.

"This started with former Minister (Els) Borst," said Health Ministry spokesman Bas Kuyk, in an interview with Reuters Health. "She felt that doctors should be able to follow their patients through treatment. That was not possible before."

Previously, it was not legal for doctors to prescribe cannabis since it was prohibited under of the Opium Act, the law that lists controlled substances, but many doctors still informally prescribed it. Because of an alteration in the law in 2001 it became possible for doctors to prescribe cannabis legally for their seriously ill patients to alleviate some symptoms.

According to the Ministry, cannabis is useful in stimulating appetite in patients with advanced AIDS and cancer, helping control nausea in patients undergoing chemotherapy, and ameliorating pain.

"While there is not a lot scientific basis, not a lot of proof of its effectiveness, on the other side there is a lot of user experience, for example for MS to temper the pain and for users with HIV and cancer," Kuyk added.

A special department, the Bureau of Medicinal Cannabis, will buy and sell the drug, as well as assure its quality. Like any other prescription drug, patients will be able to get it from their local pharmacy.

Since the Ministry is still negotiating with several growers, however, the marijuana won't be available until later in September of this year.

Several nations have already been experimenting with allowing access to medical Marijuana, including Canada, the United Kingdom and Switzerland. "I know also that several countries will be watching the Netherlands on this, especially Germany and Belgium," Kuyk added.

© 2003 Reuters Ltd.