Medicinal cannabis Following the ever-increasing public pressure on the German Federal Government, the German Drugs Commissioner Marlene Mortler has announced what just a few months ago seemed unthinkable: Germany, just like the Netherlands and Canada, will establish a Cannabis Agency in order to care for its patients itself in future. Up until now, the German Government has insisted that there is no need for such an institution.
Establishment of a Cannabis Agency announced
Following the ever-increasing public pressure on the German Federal Government, the German Drugs Commissioner Marlene Mortler has announced what just a few months ago seemed unthinkable: Germany, just like the Netherlands and Canada, will establish a Cannabis Agency in order to care for its patients itself in future. Up until now, the German Government has insisted that there is no need for such an institution. In the context of its Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs, the UN has required the establishment of such an agency in its member states since 1961. This establishment permits drugs for medicinal purposes that would otherwise be illegal. The Netherlands, Canada, Uruguay, Colorado, Washington State and D.C., Alaska and Oregon now all have such authorities. Originally intended for opiates, they now supervise medicinal cannabis programs. For the most part, the costs for this medicine that is currently unaffordable in Germany will be borne by the health insurance funds. This more flexible approach will benefit patients currently taking ready-made preparations, as well as those currently obtaining their medicinal cannabis from the Dutch manufacturer Bedrocan. To date, the health insurance funds only reimburse Dronabinol and Sativex, and only for some indications. The large group of chronic pain patients who have relied on off label use until now will benefit the most, as they will no longer have to pay for their own medicine, whether it be as drops or solid preparations.
Seen by many as a surprising step, trendwatchers have been expecting this for some time. The conservative German ministry of health has not suddenly become sympathetic towards less well-off cannabis patients, it has simply done the maths in the face of an impending court case loss. This was not the only blog to predict that the Federal Republic of Germany would sooner produce its cannabis for medicinal purposes than allow less well-off cannabis patients to cultivate their own weed. Having already lost two court cases to patients, the chances of winning the court case against Günther Weiglein in 2016 seemed low. Weiglein, who suffers from the consequences of a serious motorcycle accident, has taken the government to court over the unaffordable high price of €15-20/g for cannabis buds from German pharmacies. Due to the strict transportation regulations, cannabis buds from the Netherlands cost German patients almost twice as Dutch patients. What’s more, they have to pay for their medicine themselves and they are often unavailable. The unreliable availability is due to the fact that Bedrocan actually only has capacity to serve the Dutch market, as the company pointed out to the German Federal Government back in 2013. Not that it made any difference. But now a decision must be made in court, and the announced establishment of a Cannabis Agency will have a significant impact on that. As we have seen in Canada, the state can now argue that it will provide for a regular supply to patients itself, thus preventing Weiglein et al from growing their own cannabis for medicinal purposes. It is this, and not a change of heart that is the real reason behind this about-turn.
Who will be growing the cannabis?
As is the case in Canada, it is likely that one or more companies will be commissioned by the state to cultivate the cannabis, while concentrates on regulation and supervision. One possible candidate is the German pharmaceutical company Bionorica, which for years now has been cultivating cannabis in Austria for Dronabinol production. Another possible candidate is Bedrocan, which in fact already supplies licenced patients in Germany. This Dutch company already has a subsidiary in Canada, and is equipped not only with expertise, but years of experience. Other candidates could include foreign companies that already cultivate cannabis and are interested in the new market. It is unlikely however, that it will be permitted – as it is in the US – for patient clubs or individuals to cultivate limited amounts of cannabis for medicinal purposes. The Cannabis Agency is intended to prevent such developments.
What happens next?
At the moment, the proposed law is still being considered in draft form by the German Chancellery. If approved, a corresponding change to the Narcotics Act would have to be voted in by the Grand Coalition. Only then can a Cannabis Agency be established, dedicated to the matters of regular supply, cultivation and supervision. The agency will not, however, be authorised to act until the next election period. Just how strictly it will then govern the new law all depends on who wins the election. This important milestone was not brought about thanks to the voluntary efforts of the powers at be in Berlin, but thanks to patients who fought their case with tooth and nail, one authority at a time. Those who are now gloating, yet only responded to the cry for help once the law was behind it, would do well not to forget that.