Health ministry proposes options to ease access to medical marihuana

Photo: Public Domain

People suffering from cancer, chronic pain, multiple sclerosis and other neurological diseases should have easier access to medical marihuana in the future. The government is set to debate a proposal this week that would make the drug more affordable to patients who need it.

Photo: Public Domain
The law on medical marihuana came into force in February 2013, following years of lobbying by patients’ associations. But five years later it still remains largely inaccessible to those who need it, mainly due to its high price. Medical marihuana is not covered by health insurance and a vast majority of patients simply cannot afford it.

The debate about the availability of medical marihuana was stirred last week by the Pirate Party, which has called on Prime Minister Andrej Babiš to support a legalisation on growing, processing and possession of cannabis for one’s own needs. Pirate Party leader Ivan Bartoš:

“This is a very important issue, because it concerns around 880, 000 people in the Czech Republic, who are using cannabis for medical purposes. So this is not only about the recreational use of the drug.”

Although the prime minister and ANO party leader is not in favour of legalizing marihuana, he responded by saying it was time to accept the drug as a legal form of medical treatment. In reaction to the Pirate Party’s appeal, Mr. Babiš has called on the Health Ministry to outline a plan on how to make medical marihuana more available. Health Minister Adam Vojtěch says there are essentially two options on the table:

Adam Vojtěch,  photo: Jana Přinosilová / Czech Radio
“The first option is a reimbursement covered from a patient’s health insurance. We are proposing a 75 percent reimbursement, because we think patients should participate in the payment at least to some extent.

“The second, and easier option, is a subsidy from the state budget, which would cover the cost of medical cannabis sold in pharmacies and make its price lower.”

The Czech Republic’s Patient Association for Cannabis Treatment says it would welcome either of the options, as long as it would make therapeutic cannabis, more available to those who need it.

At the moment, there are are only around 60 specialists around the Czech Republic, including neurologists, dermatologists or palliative care specialists, who are authorised to prescribe medical cannabis.

President of the Czech Medical Chamber Milan Kubek explains the reasons behind the low interest among Czech doctors:

Milan Kubek,  photo: Šárka Ševčíková / Czech Radio
“Medical marihuana cannot treat any disease. It can only moderate the symptoms and its indication is limited. Our doctors are treating serious diseases, such as diabetes, high blood pressure or growing obesity. These are serious problems, so the expert health community doesn’t have time to deal with medical marihuana.”

Despite its high price and the unavailability of specialists who can prescribe medical marihuana, its use has been has been steadily increasing, suggests the State Agency for Medical Cannabis.

According to their latest data, some 156 recipes were issued in October, which is the highest number since the law on medical marihuana came into force.