Pubdate: Fri, 19 Oct 2001
Source: Associated Press (Wire)
Copyright: 2001 Associated Press
Author: Anthony Deutsch, Associated Press Writer
Cited: NORML


AMSTERDAM, Netherlands (AP) - The Dutch Cabinet approved a bill Friday
that would allow pharmacies to fill marijuana prescriptions and for
the government to pay for them.

Parliament was expected to vote in the next few months on the proposal
to put medicinal marijuana on the national health care plan. If the
bill is passed by the 150-seat legislature, pharmacies would be
supplied with "pharmaceutical quality" marijuana after testing by a
government agency.

Although the sale of marijuana is technically illegal, Dutch
authorities tolerate the sale of small amounts in hundreds of
so-called "coffee shops" that operate openly. A gram of marijuana
costs about $4.

Under the new law, most users would have the cost of their joints paid
by the government as long as it is prescribed by a doctor.

A government statement recognized that some patrons of coffee shops
use marijuana to alleviate pain.

"An increasing number of patients suffering illnesses such as cancer,
AIDS and multiple sclerosis receive medicinal cannabis," it said.

The law is needed to remove an "undesirable" contradiction between
practice and law "despite lack of scientific evidence" of the effects
of marijuana use, the statement said.

Many patients using the drug without professional assistance have had
successful results, it added. "Experiences are positive: less pain,
less nausea after chemotherapy, less stiffness with MS," the statement

The prescription marijuana would be grown along government guidelines.
As is selling, growing marijuana is illegal but tolerated in small
quantities, and the Netherlands produces some of the most potent
varieties in the world.

Though several countries tolerate marijuana use by medical patients,
only Canada licenses them to legally grow and possess it, said Paul
Armentano, a spokesman for the Washington-based National Organization
for the Reform of Marijuana Laws. The Canadian government is also
growing marijuana and plans to create a government-run system to
distribute it.

Britain has licensed a company, GW Pharmaceuticals, to grow large
amounts of marijuana to develop a medical extract, such as a spray
that patients can spray in their mouths. However, smoking marijuana
remains illegal there.

In the United States, nine states have exempted medical patients from
prosecution under state laws, but they can still be arrested under
federal laws, Armentano said. 
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