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Medical Marijuana sold in the Netherlands
( 2003-09-02 07:46) (Agencies)

Marijuana went on sale Monday at Dutch pharmacies to help bring relief to thousands of patients suffering from cancer, AIDS or multiple sclerosis.

Medicinal marijuana is seen in this handout photo released Monday Sept 1, 2003. Dutch pharmacies will be supplied with the government-tested, medicinal cannabis Monday, as the Netherlands legalizes the supply of the drug to thousands of patients suffering from symptoms related to cancer, AIDS or multiple sclerosis.   [AP]
Around 7,000 patients will be eligible for prescription marijuana, sold in containers of .16 ounces at most pharmacies. Labeled "Cannabis" and tested by the Ministry of Health, the drug will be covered by health insurance for the first time under a new law that went into effect in March.

Canada, Germany and Australia already allow restricted use of medicinal marijuana or its active chemical, but the Dutch go a step further by providing the drug and regulating its quality.

In the United States, 14 states allow medicinal use despite a federal ban on the drug.

Dutch patients will be recommended not to smoke the plant, but to use vaporizers or make marijuana tea. It will be prescribed to those suffering from nausea or pain associated with cancer, Tourette's syndrome, AIDS or multiple sclerosis.

Two varieties will offer a lower or higher content of Tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC, the active chemical in marijuana. It will cost $48 for the milder variant, with a THC content of 15 percent, and $60 for an 18 percent version.

Although marijuana is officially prohibited under Dutch law, authorities tolerate the sale of small quantities under a policy that distinguishes between hard drugs such as cocaine and heroine and so-called "soft-drugs" like marijuana.

Marijuana growers and pharmacies will need licenses exempting them from prosecution.

"For the first time, pharmacies will be able to make legal purchases of medicinal cannabis for patient prescriptions," the Ministry of Health said in a statement.

The Dutch parliament approved the change in policy by a large majority in 2001.

Due to limited clinical testing of the effects of cannabis use, the Ministry of Health said it would recommend that patients use it only if regular treatment had failed or caused side effects. The decision to permit medicinal use is based on "case reports and extensive practical experience," it said.

Recent studies show a small increase in the number of people in the Netherlands who say they have tried marijuana, but overall use levels remain well below those in the United States despite the drug's widespread availability here.

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