Is A New Norm Dawning For European Cannabis Patients?

Recent legal challenges and even victories prove that patients are gaining ground on the access front, but the going is still rough

Photo by Enecta Cannabis extracts on Unsplash

European cannabis patients — or potential ones at any rate — take note. If you live in Europe — or even the Brexiting UK — your chances of actually obtaining cannabis legally (and thus in some way subsidized by a government or health insurer) during 2020 dramatically increased.

That may not help the pain you feel today, but take heart. Change is here and more is on the way.

The following is a brief overview, from a patient’s perspective, of where things have recently changed, and where you can put more pressure on your doctor to write the prescription, if not get your medication relatively cheaply.

It is still not “easy” but rather “more possible.”

Regardless, this is a major step in the right direction if not source of hope for literally, millions of people.

Germany

It is important to understand the significance of what has just happened in court. Essentially, German patients have won the right to gain access to medical cannabis merely if their doctor prescribes it — not if their health insurer or the regional approver does.

Photo by Esteban Lopez on Unsplash

Germany has the largest medical cannabis program in Europe — established in 2017. Treated patients and prescriptions are growing, slowly, and for several reasons. One so far has been cost — certainly before German grown cannabis was ready to be distributed domestically. However in the meantime, patients have also had to fight to find doctors willing to prescribe, and beyond that an insurer complex willing to cover the costs of treatment. That took the form of both an insurer — and more importantly, the regional approvers known as the Medizinische Dienst Kankensicherung (MDK). When it comes to cannabis prescriptions, at least so far, the MDKs actually had more influence on this decision — indeed the statutory health insurers have so far been merely passing coverage requests for cannabis to these bodies (which are also organized on a state-by-state basis). And the MDKs have been taking their time. Not to mention turning down about 40% of all applicants.

No more. As of last month, a woman who qualified under German law as being severely disabled and whose doctor had prescribed cannabis won a major legal precedent. Namely, after her insurer passed the prescription on to the MDK, the body had refused to endorse the prescription because of their repeated focus on the supposed negative health effects of the drug — four times. The court awarded the woman instant coverage (before the court has reached a final decision on the overall case) citing the woman’s literal constitutional German rights to obtain it in these circumstances, and further for a full year. After that time, as is normal, the course of treatment will be evaluated. However, this is a major, major win for German medical access.

UK

Photo by David Gabrić on Unsplash

The British have also made advancements this month, and it will be interesting to see where and how far if not fast that actually impacts the now Brexiting industry. 15 year old epileptic Billy Caldwell won the lifetime right to obtain cannabis meds from the NHS trust that covers him in Northern Ireland. That this treatment is currently imported from Canada is likely to make this situation a one off. What is more important is that the NHS has acceded to the reality that patients who need cannabis may not be able to find relief from GW Pharmaceuticals products, and further that even compensated treatment will have to be imported (at least for now). From where is another story as British firms begin to meet cert on the extraction and production side.

Regardless, it is a good development in a country which is likely to see a growing medical cannabis program right along with the CBD market. Not to mention launching a major medical trial of its own (see Project Twenty21).

Spain

The Spanish question is moving, and in an interesting way. Namely, the Canary Islands just voted for recreational reform (which puts the Archipelago in an interesting comparative with Barcelona if not Greece for the potential of a tourist driven club and health industry). In addition, the Spanish government is facing down a challenge at the Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg over the right to assemble in clubs for the rest of Spain.

France

The French have finally bowed to the inevitable and are moving forward on a national medical trial, consisting of 3,000 patients as of March 2021. It is a step at least in the right direction. Patients will be given both free medication, and in the case of floß, inhalers too.

Luxembourg

Photo by Matteo Paganelli on Unsplash

No matter what happens next year on the medical front, patients who fall out of traditional medical prescription will be able to access Europe’s first fully federal legal recreational cannabis market. This is not an ideal model (see Holland, where insurers stopped covering claims as soon as German insurers decided to do so). However it starts to get such people out of the black market — and in the case of Luxembourg, there is no sign that they are going to end their medical access program, which is also covered under health insurance now.

2021 — A Good Year To Be A European Cannabis Patient?

While the fight is far from over, the tide is clearly turning.

However patients in more countries are finding that institutionalized approval for access is getting easier.

What is needed now is more doctor and patient education, as well as legislative fixes at both the international and sovereign level to move further reform, now inevitable, forward in the best possible way. And for the benefit not of the industry or even governments first, but patients.

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Ongoing reporting from the field about the evolving world of cannabinoids

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Marguerite Arnold

Marguerite Arnold

Marguerite has covered the legal cannabis industry internationally from Germany for over six years and is the author of several books plus a Cannatech geek

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