Germany: Medical Marijuana Program Expands—Cautiously

Photo by Sean Gallup/Getty Images

German authorities just took the unprecedented move of allowing a medical marijuana patient to cultivate at home.

The obscurely named Federal Institute for Drugs and Medical Devices (BfArM) announced on Oct. 2 that a multiple sclerosis sufferer from Mannheim, in the Baden-Württemberg state, will be permitted to grow a maximum of 130 plants a year. But the grow must be confined to an extremely restricted space in his bathroom. Terms of the permit stipulate that any leftover plants or harvested herb must be destroyed, and the buds must be kept in a “secure storage unit.”

The Mannheimer, who was not named in media accounts, had to battle through the courts even for this, arguing that he could not afford the monthly 1,500 euros he had to pay at state-approved pharmacies. Germany’s Federal Administrative Court finally ruled in April that the BfArM must “allow the claimant to grow cannabis, harvest the drug, and use it for the medical purpose of his treatment.”

Under Germany’s tightly controlled medical marijuana program, one gram currently costs around 15 euros ($16.85) at licensed pharmacies, with the costs covered solely by the patient. Advocates of the program’s expansion, of course, hailed the new move.

“This is a slap in the face for policymakers who have so far failed to correctly implement the first ruling of the Federal Administrative Court in 2005,” a spokesman for the International Association for Cannabis as Medicine told Deutsche Welle, referring to the decision that mandated access to medical marijuana. 

In May, health minister Hermann Gröhe  introduced a bill to the Bundestag that would allow doctors to directly prescribe cannabis, freeing medical marijuana somewhat from the federal bureaucracy—and also allow for reimbursement of patients by health insurers. Should the bill pass, the permit for the Mannheim patient—now due to last until summer 2017—will expire immediately and automatically. The Health Ministry says passage is expected next year.

Rather than permitting homegrown, however, the bill would establish a system of state-controlled cultivation. Currently, all legally permitted cannabis is imported, persuambly from the Netherlands.

Despite tight regulation, the amount of medicinal cannabis sold by German pharmacies has almost doubled in just one year. According to the Ministry of Health, sales rose from 33.8 kilograms in the first six months of 2015 to 61.8 kilograms in the first six months 2016. The figures were released following a parliamentary letter of enquiry from Die Linke, or the Left Party. As of this spring, there were 647 patients approved to purchase medical marijuana—up from 424 the previous year, according to DW and The Local.

But pressure is building for a much more liberal policy.

On Aug. 13, some 4,000 supporters of cannabis legalization marched through central Berlin, culminating in a rally at the Health Ministry building, RT reported. Last year, the Green party, or Die Grünen, introduced legislation that would allow adult consumption of cannabis, although it failed to pass. Next June, Germany’s capital—where possession of up to 15 grams is tolerated as a matter of policy—will host a major cannabis industry expo, dubbed Mary Jane Berlin.

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