The Italian army will now grow medical marijuana in a secure military lab in order to lower costs and make it more available to those who need it, following an agreement between the Ministry of Defense and the Ministry of Health last week. The approach to the controversial medical treatment represents somewhat of a departure from how marijuana is regulated here in the U.S.
While medical marijuana has been legal in Italy since 2007, it is extremely expensive; one month of treatment for multiple sclerosis is around 700 euros. According to the Italian newspaper La Stampa, only around 60 people in Italy had access to it through the Azienda Sanitaria Locale, which issues health insurance on a local level.
Under the plan, the laboratory, which currently produces drugs for the Italian military, will distribute the marijuana it grows to pharmacies through out the country starting in 2015. Private pharmacies, however, will not be allowed to produce their own medical marijuana because of “the delicacy of this issue,” the Health Minister Beatrice Lorenzin said. She said that through the new program, the cost of medical marijuana should be cut in half and that fewer people will have to buy it from street dealers.
Selling, growing, and possessing marijuana is illegal in Italy. In February, the country overturned a law that made the punishment for possessing and selling marijuana the same as for cocaine and heroin, following a ruling from the European Court of Human Rights that the law, and the resulting prison overcrowding, violated the rights of inmates. Lorenzin said that there are no plans for legalizing marijuana for recreational use.
Marijuana for medical use is legal in several other European countries, including France, which legalized it in January, the Czech Republic, and the Netherlands. Currently, Italy imports most of its medical marijuana from the Netherlands.
Here in the United States, 23 states and the District of Columbia have made medical marijuana legal. However, there have been difficulties in lowering the cost of medical marijuana for Americans who want to use it. Health insurance does not cover medical marijuana due to its status as a Schedule 1 controlled substance, so users must pay out of pocket, which can cost hundreds of dollars. Some states and cities have found their own ways of lowering the cost of medical pot, like giving patients income-based discounts or setting aside two percent of product for low-income patients.
Meanwhile, federally-funded research on medical marijuana is non-existent; this summer, the University of Arizona fired Dr. Sue Sisley, who was the only person to gain approval from the federal government to use marijuana legally in her research. In Massachusetts, doctors who advise medical marijuana dispensaries reported that the Drug Enforcement Administration has threatened to suspend their DEA licenses.