Pubdate: Tue, 07 Jun 2005
Source: New Zealand Herald (New Zealand)
Copyright: 2005 New Zealand Herald
Bookmark: (Cannabis - Medicinal)


Netherlands: Famed 'Coffee Shops' Undercut Medical Marijuana

AMSTERDAM (AP) -- The Dutch Health Ministry, unhappy with legal sales of 
medical marijuana through pharmacies, will reevaluate its program later 
this year and may close it, a spokesman said Monday.

In a country where unauthorized marijuana has been easily available for 
decades, the government was surprised to find that prescription marijuana 
produced under stringent quality controls has been far less successful than 
predicted, said Health Ministry spokesman Bas Kuik.

The Dutch were considering their reassessment as the U.S. Supreme Court 
ruled Monday that users of medical marijuana could be prosecuted under 
federal law even if their doctors had prescribed it legally according to 
state law.

Official intolerance in America for marijuana still raises eyebrows in the 
Netherlands, where smoking pot has rarely been prosecuted since it emerged 
into the open in the 1960s.

The weed is accessible to any adult in "coffee shops" - so called to 
maintain the fiction of legality - where the sale of small quantities of 
marijuana remains technically illegal but is tolerated by the authorities.

"It's a witch hunt, that's what they do in the United States," said Marcel 
de Wit, who until two years ago grew marijuana under license from the Dutch 
government for medicinal purposes.

The government is selling less than a third of the marijuana it thought it 
would and is losing money, prompting the health minister to call for new 
studies on whether the program should be discontinued or modified, said Kuik.

After an exhaustive study, the government set up the Bureau of Medicinal 
Cannabis that would supply standardized and regulated weed that underwent 
quality control, especially for patients suffering chronic pain from 
multiple sclerosis, HIV/AIDS, neuralgia, cancer and Tourette's syndrome.

Sales began in September 2003 and fell flat.

Doctors who had lobbied for legalizing prescription marijuana in the 1990s 
failed to prescribe it once it was available in pharmacies, Kuik said.

One reason may be the high price of prescribed marijuana compared with the 
product sold at the neighborhood coffee shop.

The legal medicine, which varies from 8 to 10 euros ($14-$17) per gram, is 
about double the price of the unauthorized drug since it must cover the 
costs of regulating production, packaging and sales tax.

Some health insurance companies reimburse patients for prescribed 
marijuana, but not all.

Another reason for the Dutch policy review is that the current health 
minister, Hans Hoogervorst, is less committed to liberal drug policies than 
his predecessor, who initiated the program.

Hoogervorst argues the medical value of marijuana has never been 
scientifically proven, despite anecdotal testimony from sufferers of 
chronic pain.

- - AP


Leading uses of medical marijuana:

- -  Helping patients control pain and the nausea from cancer chemotherapy.

- -  In recent years, marijuana and its chemical components have been studied 
in relation to illnesses ranging from cancer, glaucoma and multiple sclerosis.

- -  The Institute of Medicine, a National Academy of Sciences component, 
reported in 1999 that "marijuana's active components are potentially 
effective in treating pain, nausea, the anorexia of AIDS wasting, and other 
symptoms, and should be tested rigorously in clinical trials."

- - There are scores of chemical compounds in the leaves, stem and seeds of 
the marijuana plant.

Some medical problems that have been studied for treatment with marijuana 

- - Glaucoma. This disease is associated with increased fluid pressure within 
the eye and can lead to vision loss and blindness. The National Eye 
Institute reports that studies in the 1970s and 1980s showed marijuana 
lowered pressure within the eye when used orally, by injection or by 
smoking. However, the research indicated marijuana was no more effective 
than other drugs on the market.

- - Cancer. Marijuana has been studied as a means of reducing the nausea and 
vomiting side-effects of anti-cancer drugs. The National Cancer Institute 
recommends other available anti-nausea drugs as first line therapy, but 
says "scientists believe synthetic THC [the active compounds in cannabis] 
may be appropriate for nausea and vomiting that cannot be controlled by 
other means."

- - Multiple Sclerosis. Some researchers believe marijuana may be useful in 
treating pain as well as protecting the nerves from damage, but results 
from studies have been mixed. The National Multiple Sclerosis Society says, 
"There have been a large number of anecdotal reports from individuals who 
state that smoking marijuana has relieved some of their MS symptoms, 
including spasticity and pain. Studies completed thus far, however, have 
not provided convincing evidence that marijuana benefits people with MS."

- - AIDS. Loss of appetite often occurs in AIDS patients and marijuana has 
been used as a stimulant to improve their eating. The National Association 
of People with AIDS reports that it is also useful for managing side 
effects of drugs, such as nausea.
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MAP posted-by: Jay Bergstrom