Photograph: Right

The German government on Wednesday gave the green light on a draft law allowing the use of marijuana for medicinal purposes.

The law, put forward by Health Minister Hermann Groehe, will allow patients for whom there are no alternative therapies to receive marijuana products at a pharmacy with a doctor's prescription.

If it is given parliamentary approval, the law will also open the door to state-controlled marijuana cultivation in Germany.

Groehe said the purpose of the initiative was to guarantee the costs of medicinal marijuana for seriously ill patients are covered by their health insurance.

However the minister ruled out the possibility of a full legalization of the drug and said that the liberal approaches of other European governments were not an argument for allowing recreational use of the drug in Germany.

"Many countries in Scandinavia, to a degree also in the Netherlands, are anything but happy about the choice they made back then," Groehe said on the television station ARD.

The government plans to import marijuana in dried and extract form until it can establish a means of cultivating the plant in Germany.

The law is expected to be implemented by early 2017 at the latest, Groehe told the Die Welt daily.

Marlene Mortler, the government's commissioner for illegal substances, described the initiative as a "modern drug and health policy" that "makes use of the drug's potential without risking the health of the people."

Mortler, who had pushed for the reform, said the limited medicinal usage of marijuana was sensible, but that further research was necessary.

Patients using the drug will be asked to take part in a scientific study on its impact.

The Green Party argued that the reform was only a "minimal" improvement and criticized that medicinal marijuana would only be allowed if other drugs had failed and patients were willing to take part in a clinical study.

Around 650 Germans with serious illnesses such as cancer, multiple sclerosis, AIDS or nerve damage currently have permission to make medicinal usage of marijuana. The patients are subjected to stringent diplomatic hurdles before legally receiving the drug, with many resorting to illegally cultivating the plant at home.

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