German lawmakers have approved legislation that would allow some patients to get cannabis as a prescription-only medication.
The German Parliament’s lower house passed the bill unanimously on Thursday, clearing the way for the law to take effect in March.
Health Minister Hermann Groehe has stressed the move does not mean marijuana will be legal for non-medical purposes.
“Seriously ill people must be cared for in the best way possible,” Groehe said, which includes allowing the public health system to fund cannabis prescriptions for patients “if they cannot effectively be helped any other way.”
The country’s progress on medical cannabis is noteworthy, as up until early 2016, the country’s health ministry had insisted there was no need for such a program. Instead the country required that German patients obtain special authorization from the government. The restrictions meant that few of the thousands of patients seeking cannabis for treatment were able to secure it.
High costs have also frustrated patients seeking medical cannabis. Under the forthcoming program, expenses for cannabis flower and extracts will be covered by health insurance for patients who have no other treatment options.
Under the bill approved by lawmakers this week, prescriptions will be filled with imported cannabis until a domestic cultivation program is up and running. Cannabis is currently imported from the Netherlands, although the Dutch have said they cannot meet the skyrocketing demand in Europe.
Germany is not the only European country considering changes to its cannabis policies. Several other European countries, such as Croatia, Italy, and the Czech Republic, are acting to get legal cannabis markets off the ground in hopes of improving patients’ quality of life while enabling scientific research. And late last year Irish lawmakers approved a landmark medical cannabis program in that country.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
Story updated at 12:06 p.m.