The German health ministry has announced plans to legalize medical use of marijuana, prompting praise from advocates for patients with chronic pain and terminal illnesses.
Medical marijuana is effectively illegal in Germany
Top policy makers in the German government have agreed on plans to allow prescriptions for medical marijuana for seriously ill patients, according to an announcement by the German health ministry.
Speaking to reporters in Berlin on Tuesday, Health Minister Philipp Roesler said the plan could be carried out by a simple change in the ministry's policy, and that no change in German law was necessary.
He added that because many other European countries already allow medical cannibis, the process in Germany could go "quickly in comparison."
Many health professionals consider marijuana useful for the relief of nausea and the stimulation of appetite in chemotherapy or AIDS patients, and for general pain relief. But medical marijuana has been effectively illegal in Germany, with only 40 patients in the entire country having obtained cannabis prescriptions.
Praise from medical community
Health professionals and advocates for the seriously ill welcomed the change, with Eugen Brysch of the German Hospice Foundation saying cannabis can play "an important role" in the treatment of the critically ill.
Many other European countries already allow medicinal marijuana
"Because it is disproportionately difficult to obtain cannabis as medicine, many patients with chronic pain are currently forced into illegality," he said.
Gerhard Mueller-Schwefe, president of the German Society for Pain Therapy, said that the policy change would open up new drug therapy options for patients with chronic pain diseases like multiple sclerosis, and that "it's time to bring cannabis out from the shadows."
The change in policy is also to allow hospices and specialized ambulances to use certain high-strength anesthetics like morphine, and to store surplus supplies for emergencies.
This "will legalize a practice that pain therapists and palliative health professionals have long administered out of necessity," Mueller-Schwefe said. "It would always happen that doctors needed to order opioids for patients on the weekend, when pharmacies didn't have any in stock."
Author: Andrew Bowen (AFP/KNA/dpa)
Editor: Susan Houlton