Patients suffering from serious illness, such as multiple sclerosis, chronic pain, serious appetite loss or nausea from chemotherapy, will now be able to receive prescriptions from their doctors for medical marijuana.
"Seriously ill people must be treated in the best ways possible," said Health Minister Hermann Gröhe, who proposed the law.
Up until now, only certain people with serious medical conditions could be granted permission to use the drug for self therapy, and the bar was set fairly high. Only around 1,000 people in the whole country currently have been given permission to use the drug.
The new law will expand this and eventually allow cannabis products to be grown under state supervision. Private producers could also apply, but the requirements for approval would be very strict.
When the law will be implemented in March, health insurance providers will have to cover the costs of cannabis used to treat, for example, pain or lack of appetite.
But proponents of the law don’t all see it as opening up the way for recreational use. Federal Drug Commissioner Marlene Mortler of the conservative Christian Social Union (CSU) said on Monday that in her view, increasing access by allowing for recreational use would also increase consumption of the drug - which she would not want.
“Cannabis as a medicine is certainly not a miracle drug,” Mortler said. “But everyone should have the right to have it paid for when it helps.”
The German Pain Society welcomed the law, but also called for a lower threshold for access.
“Current studies and reports from experience clearly show that cannabinoids on the one hand in many cases are only weak pain-relievers, but on the other hand for certain select patients can definitely be helpful,” Prof. Dr. Michael Schäfer of the Pain Society wrote in a statement last year.
“These patients should therefore be given the opportunity to try such therapy after recommended therapies fail.”