A fairly limited number of patients legally obtain medicinal cannabis by visiting a pharmacy after receiving a doctor’s prescription. Health Minister Ernst Kuipers said this week he was not surprised by the finding. Health insurers do not reimburse for medicinal cannabis, and physicians are reluctant to prescribe it.
However, Kuipers did not rule out the possibility that there are other reasons why patients do not follow a fully legal path to obtaining the drug. The medicinal cannabis available through pharmacists may not have a high enough content of active ingredients that the patient needs. It is also possible that patients want to use cannabis for health complaints for which they cannot obtain a prescription. Patients might also skip the route involving a doctor and pharmacist if they choose to grow the cannabis themselves, a ministry spokesperson said.
More research is needed in order to gain more insight into the target group for medicinal cannabis, Kuipers said.
The Medicinal Cannabis Bureau (BMC), a government organization, has been responsible for years for the cultivation of a sufficient quantity of medicinal cannabis to be used in scientific research, and for the production of medicine. In the Netherlands, it has a monopoly on the legal purchase, sale, import, and export of medicinal cannabis. The BMC is also obliged to purchase all medicinal cannabis produced in the Netherlands.
Kuipers wants to change the role of the BMC. That role must be reduced when it comes to the trade of medicinal cannabis, he said. The law in the Netherlands governing this, the Opium Act, must be revised in order to change the BMC’s monopoly position and the purchase obligation, he said. This will impact many areas, including scientific and clinical research, and drug development.
Cooperation and trade between pharmaceutical companies and research institutions both domestically and abroad is becoming easier. In addition, these parties can take responsibility for the quality, safety, and availability of medicinal cannabis.
“The aim of this step is to give a boost to scientific research into the effect of medicinal cannabis, by enabling companies to trade in medicinal cannabis, and products, necessary to conduct research into its effects,” the spokesperson said. At the moment, pharmaceutical companies have undertaken few initiatives in this regard.