Germany's lower house of parliament on Thursday passed a law that legalizes the use of cannabis for medicinal purposes for people who are chronically ill.
Those suffering from serious illnesses such as multiple sclerosis and chronic pain or a lack of appetite or nausea could be offered marijuana under the law.
The draft law says patients will only have the right to be treated with cannabis "in very limited exceptional cases" and patients will not be allowed to grow their own cannabis.
"Those who are severely ill need to get the best possible treatment and that includes health insurance funds paying for cannabis as a medicine for those who are chronically ill if they can't be effectively treated any other way," said Health Minister Hermann Groehe.
A Health Ministry spokeswoman said cannabis would only be used as a last resort when nothing else seemed to work. She said a scientific study would simultaneously be carried out to assess the effects of cannabis use in such cases.
Until now patients had only been able to get access to cannabis for medicinal purposes with special authorization which had made it complicated, but now they will be able to get a prescription from their doctors and a refund for it from their health insurance fund, she said.
She said the law was likely to take effect in March after a procedural reading by the upper house of parliament.
State-supervised cannabis plantations will be set up in Germany in future and until then cannabis will be imported. Other countries that allow cannabis to be used for medical purposes include Italy and the Czech Republic.