Why Germans Love Weed But Have One Problem
The world of legal cannabis is never smooth sailing, especially if you’re a patient whose life depends on it.
In Germany, cannabis supply is a problem, according to an article. Since medical cannabis was legalized last year, demand has grown tremendously and they weren’t prepared. “We’re not as surprised as the government is over the huge surge in demand,” says Georg Wurth, who oversees Hanfverband, a German cannabis lobbyist group. Wurth is referring to the increasing awareness of consumers, who no longer want to take painkillers due to the current opioid epidemic in the United States. “Officials totally underestimated it.”
Before cannabis was legalized, there were only around 1,000 people who were authorized by the German federal drug institute (BfArM) to use medical cannabis for their terminal illnesses such as cancer or chronic pain. Authors of Germany’s MMJ bill forecasted only around 700 prescriptions, part of which was subsidized by public health insurance. But just within 10 months, over 13,000 people applied for prescriptions. Around 2/3 of them were approved, and the rest are awaiting more information from patients and physicians. Not surprising, considering cannabis is extremely effective in treating pain and increasing appetite.
Günter Weiglein, a patient, relies on taking cannabis through a vaporizer to treat his back pain caused by a motorcycle accident. He says that using cannabis has gotten rid of the need to use strong painkillers. “All these traditional drugs have side effects, which cannabis doesn’t have,” Weiglein told Handelsblatt Global. “Consider the damage they can do to your liver.”
Germans are also using cannabis for multiple sclerosis (MS). “Cannabis can help MS patients feel better,” says Jürgen Metken, a surgeon who used to work in the pharmaceutical industry. “But the relief is only for a short time.” Metken had to give up his dreams of pursuing a career in medicine when he was diagnosed with MS himself.
Germany is now trying to figure out how to get more cannabis. Currently, the supply available is imported from Canada and the Netherlands, countries with legal cannabis regulations in place while Germany still has some of the harshest drug laws in Europe. Last year, the federal drug institute allowed 10 companies to grow up to 2 tons of cannabis until 2021, and 6 tons from 2022. The first harvest is expected next year, but the complicated laws require that companies have had experience with medical cannabis – with German companies don’t. This obstacle leaves them with no choice but to partner with foreign rivals, and some companies are even suing the government about this issue. Experts think that domestic cannabis sales can reach as much as $7.3 billion over the next decade, and this is why over 100 companies are vying for the spot. It still isn’t legal to grow your own medicine, and Weiglen learned this lesson the hard way. He’s had a prescription to buy cannabis since 2009, but he needs to take 3 grams daily and this amount skyrocketed to just under $2,900 from $1,100 in a year, thanks to the new law. The price is making it difficult for him to get his medicine; whereas it just costs $36 for 5 grams in the Netherlands. He’s also finding it hard to obtain his preferred strains out of the 16 that are currently available in Germany’s pharmacies. He ended up buying seeds from the US but got caught, went to court for it but lost.
That’s not even the tip of the iceberg for German patients. They also can’t find physicians who are willing to recommend it. “There aren’t enough of them,” says Wurth. “The government should support an education program in this area.” Weiglen says that physicians are worried about their reputation in the medical community if they do prescribe it, which means that reefer madness is still an issue even in Europe, let alone recreational use.
Cannabis clearly isn’t a priority for the government since it isn’t part of Angela Merkel’s agenda with the center-left Social Democrats. However, pro-business Free Democrats and left-wing Linke parties support legalization.