At the beginning of May, the Regional Council of Tuscany approved a legislation that will allow patients easier access to cannabis-based pharmaceutical products under the National Health System. It is the first legislation to be approved in Italy.
Currently, cannabis products for medical use are not available in pharmacies as they are neither produced in Italy nor included in the list of imported drugs. In theory however, drugs such as the Dutch ‘Bedrocan’ or the British ‘Sativex’ should be available to patients.
The National Health System is committed to importing any drug from abroad and delivering it to patients if a particular substance is not produced or marketed in Italy, provided that the family doctor certifies that no equivalent drug is obtainable with in the country. In practice, it is very difficult for patients to obtain medical cannabis products owing to the long bureaucratic procedures and constraints: at this time less than one hundred patients are receiving cannabis medicines from the local Health Units, while a few thousand are believed to buy cannabis for self medication from the illegal market.
The new regional legislation will facilitate the process for family doctors and patients in Tuscany, but only national legislation will prompt a significant country-level change. Nevertheless, the approval of the regional law has been widely reported in the national media and it has revived the debate. There is a growing awareness of medical cannabis to be used for a variety of symptoms and syndromes. Many politicians still oppose to it for ideological reasons (for example, the Tuscan legislation has been voted by the centre-left coalition while the right wing minority was against it). Hopefully, in the following months, a bill will be presented to Parliament to register cannabis products in the list of drugs available in pharmacies obtainable via a simple prescription from family doctors. A number of NGOs (among them, Forum Droghe) are already working on a draft bill to be submitted to MPs.
The Tuscan legislation was advocated for by a young member of the Regional Council, Alessia Ballini, a few years ago when she was suffering from a very severe form of cancer. Through her personal experiences, she concluded that cannabis was the most effective substance to mitigate both the pains from cancer and the nausea from chemotherapy. Obtaining cannabis at the time was very difficult so she decided to fight for the availability of medical cannabis as a right of patients.
After Alessia Ballini’s death, her colleague and friend Enzo Brogi took on the initiative in her name until the final approval by the Regional Council.
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