Medical marijuana in Germany might have its day soon as the country’s political decision makers are increasingly being forced to admit that cannabis has significant therapeutic potential. The medical marijuana debate raged during 2015 in the country, leading German legislators and politicians to prepare a draft proposal this month that seeks, among other things, to create a new government agency that will regulate and oversee the burgeoning medical marijuana industry in Germany. If the proposal is accepted by Parliament, the reforms that will follow will be dramatic and rapid.
A New Medical Marijuana System in Germany
The draft bill and proposal come as welcome relief for Germany’s growing population of medical marijuana patients, who must currently seek an exemption license from the government in order to acquire and use cannabis. Under the proposed new laws, any doctor will be able to prescribe cannabis products to patients for a wide variety of more than 60 disorders and conditions, including intractable pain, mental disorders, major illnesses as well as specific symptomatic treatment. These cannabis products can come in the form of raw flower, extracts such as cannabis oil and hashish, and cannabinoid-based pharmaceuticals.
Lawmakers made provisions in the draft to limit each patient to no more than 100 grams of cannabis products per month, although it’s unclear how that limit will be spread across the different types of cannabis.
Medical Marijuana Legislation where Patients are the Focus
In addition to an initially generous list of qualifying conditions, medical marijuana patients in Germany will be able to acquire their medicine from virtually any pharmacy in the country, virtually eliminating access barriers; a common problem for therapeutic cannabis users for decades.
If the bill is approved, patients will be able to seek reimbursement from their insurance providers for cannabis-based medicines and treatments. Under the proposed laws, cannabis products will essentially be treated the same as traditional pharmaceuticals for insurance purposes.
However, there is a catch; in order to receive compensation from their insurance companies, patients must take part in research that the government will use to determine how to draft new laws regarding medical cannabis during the next major legislative session in 2018. Details of the research requirements are not available at this time but will probably appear as the bill is edited as it is debated on the floor of parliament.
Why Change Now?
As of January 2016 and prior to the introduction of this bill, possession, trafficking, cultivation and processing of cannabis is illegal in Germany. However, personal possession of small amounts are tolerated by authorities in most cities. German prosecutors have made it a pseudo-policy to not waste resources prosecuting small-time marijuana offenders.
Unfortunately, the current medical marijuana system of exemption licenses is expensive and not easy for all patients to navigate. If the legislation is passed as proposed, there will be a reduction in the cost of implementation of medical marijuana programs, and patients will find it much easier to obtain the medicine they need.
Additionally, the new laws will allow the cultivation of cannabis on German soil, which means that the massive expense of importing marijuana from the Netherlands can be significantly reduced and/or eliminated.
Changing the current laws is not only a public service to the German people, it’s also an indication of leadership and progressiveness. If the bill is passed, Germany will be the first European country to place cultivation, distribution, price fixing and other aspects of the cannabis industry entirely under State control. This is a bold step considering that many EU countries are still aggressively enforcing a prohibitionist policy.
- Program will be managed by a new government organization under the auspices of the Federal Institute for Drugs and Medical Devices
- Patients will be limited to a maximum of 100 grams per month
- Any doctor can prescribe cannabis products
- Any pharmacy can dispense cannabis products
- Medicines approved under the bill include raw flower, extracts and pharmaceuticals
- Insurance companies must reimburse patients for cannabis medicines
- Patients must take part in research in order to qualify for insurance reimbursement
What it means for German Cannabis Farmers and Producers
For cannabis farmers and producers in Germany, the new bill comes as great news. Farmers will be able to legally grow medicinal cannabis crops under the regulation of a new branch of the Federal Institute for Drugs and Medical Devices. Under this same governmental agency – which has yet to be named – producers of value-added and other medical cannabis products will be regulated and permitted to sell their products to pharmacies and/or their distribution chains. Under this system there will be no need for an American-style dispensary scheme.
This type of regulation is being welcomed by cannabis researchers and others in the medical field, who are finding great potential in cannabis as a treatment for cancer. This means that potentially life-saving medicines like CBD oil – an extract of a particular type of strain of cannabis – may soon be available legally to patients in Germany who are battling serious illnesses.
Currently the only country in Europe where patients can legally and easily acquire cannabis oil is the Netherlands. In Spain, cancer patients often join cannabis associations in order to acquire the medicine they need, but these clubs are only pseudo-legal and supplies of the most coveted products like cannabis oil are low or nonexistent. If the proposed laws are accepted by parliament, Germany will become one of the few places on the planet where cancer patients will be offered the option of treating their disease with cannabis instead of surgery, chemotherapy and radiation. And unlike the products produced in Spain and the Netherlands, German State supervision of the production and distribution of products like cannabis oil will likely result in a stronger supply chain providing safer, more potent medicine.
What it means for the German Government
The German government is likely to gain a new source of revenue from the passage of this bill, depending on how taxation is implemented. This revenue could be substantial considering that all aspects of the medical cannabis industry – from cultivation to transportation to distribution – will be under State control. This means that in theory there will be new funds for additional social programs or initiatives.
However, the German government will also pick up significant responsibilities via the passage of the bill. This includes a process that the country has already initiated; mandatory reporting and notifications to the EU. As a member of the European Union, Germany is bound by law to disclose to the EU that it will begin regulating and thereby making available to its citizens – and by proxy the citizens of its neighbors – marijuana and marijuana related products. This requirement forces any country that passes “favorable” legislation that reduces or eliminates restrictions on narcotics to report this change to the EU for consideration.
Germany has already begun the process of notification to the EU, but by passing the bill fully, the country will be sending a strong signal that medical marijuana should be treated like any other medicine not only in Germany, but elsewhere in Europe and the rest of the world. Germans appear to be taking the next logical step way ahead of their brethren, and it’s not just about staying ahead of the political curve; it’s about freedom of choice for the people; from farmers and trimmers to laboratory assistants and researchers, to product specialists and developers to families and the individual patient.
Here’s to hoping that the Germans pass this bill in 2016
Source: International Association for Cannabinoid Medicines, IACM-Bulletin of 09 January 2016
German Federal Ministry of Health text regarding notification to EU: