Starting a Medicinal Cannabis Program

Based on their liberal drug policy in Holland, it may not be surprising that the Dutch have been among the first to start an official Government program for medicinal cannabis. In fact, it was Health Minister Els Borst (1994-2002) who first officially acknowledged that a lot of patients were using cannabis obtained through coffee shops for medicinal purposes. However, in coffee shops patients cannot get any guarantees on the quality, composition or origin of the cannabis. In order to supply patients with a safe and reliable source of high quality cannabis, and to involve physicians and pharmacists in the medicinal use of cannabis, the Minister made it possible to start a national program. As a result, the Office of Medicinal Cannabis (OMC) was established as a National agency in 2000.

The OMC is part of the Ministry of Health, responsible for the production of cannabis for medical and scientific purposes. By setting up a National agency the Dutch cannabis program is in full agreement with the Single Convention, which allows the medicinal use of cannabis under strict conditions. 

Medical grade cannabis finally became available in Dutch pharmacies in September 2003, and since then it can be obtained on doctors’ prescription. Besides supplying it to Dutch patients, the OMC also provides cannabis for scientific research, for development of cannabis-based medicine by pharmaceutical companies, and for export to other countries with a medicinal cannabis program if those authorities issue an import license.

Right from the start, a reliable source of high quality cannabis materials was considered crucial for the success of the Dutch medicinal cannabis program. Therefore, a skilled breeder was contracted for the cultivation of plants under highly standardized conditions, resulting in a product with a reliable and consistent composition. The whole process of growing, processing and packaging of the plant material are performed according to pharmaceutical standards, all supervised by the OMC.

The quality is guaranteed through regular testing by specialized and certified laboratories. Based on the availability and quality of clinical data and scientific literature, a selection of indications was made by the OMC for treatment with its medicinal grade cannabis. The product is finally delivered to patients in 5 gram packages.