Beginning Monday, Sep. 1, 2003, pharmacies in the Netherlands became legally obliged to stock and dispense medical cannabis, as well as advising users on the merits of brewing the mixture of cannabis into a tea.
Cannabis has been legal medically in the Netherlands since Mar. 2003, but pharmacies were given additional time to prepare.
Two strengths of cannabis will be available, which James Burton, director of the Institute of Medical Cannabis, one of the two official growers, described as a "middle of the road" variety." It will come in two strengths of "tightly controlled plants of a constant quality and supply."
More than 10,000 patients with cancer, AIDS, multiple sclerosis and rheumatoid arthritis are expected to initially be "entitled" to the medical marijuana. which will cost patients more than double the cost of the cannabis available in the Dutch "coffee shops." Part of the reason for the expense, according to a spokesman for the Health Ministry, is that the medical cannabis "is rigorously controlled and tested for toxins, the presence of pesticides, metal etc, and it has to be kept at a constant quality. It is no longer a drug but a medicine, so the actual product cannot be compared to what people would buy over the counter in a coffee shop." The main difference between the coffee shop cannabis and the state approved cannabis, is that the latter "must never exceed the strength prescribed by the authorities."