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  1. Alfa
    GROWING MARIJUANA, WITH DUTCH GOVERNMENT HELP

    NAALDWIJK, Netherlands: -- James Burton, who once served a year in U.S.
    federal prison, still gets a kick out of the signs at his marijuana
    plantation here reminding employees whom to call in the event of an emergency.

    The Dutch police.

    Sixteen years ago, Burton did time in a maximum-security facility in
    Marion, Illinois, and lost his family farm in Bowling Green, Kentucky,
    after being nabbed with an estimated $112,000 worth of marijuana that he
    said he needed to stave off glaucoma. Last year, the Dutch government gave
    him a five-year contract to grow more than 10 times that much.

    Burton, 56, seemed the perfect candidate to supply the Netherlands' new
    medical cannabis program, through which terminally ill patients and chronic
    pain sufferers can buy doctor-prescribed marijuana at local pharmacies. For
    one thing, he has had plenty of on-the-job training, having grown and
    smoked pot every day for most of the last 35 years.

    "He's qualified to grow marijuana, I can tell you that," said Eddie Railey,
    a Kentucky state police investigator at the time of Burton's arrest. "He's
    good at it. He has a lot of experience."

    Even his one-year stretch behind bars was not a total waste, he said, since
    he got a grounding in the high-security techniques needed to guard a
    government-sponsored cannabis crop. Thirty-two security cameras, three
    vocal guard dogs and the occasional Dutch police car make sure no dope
    leaves through the back door.

    "It's better guarded than the bank here," Burton said proudly.

    Dressed in a lab technician's white coat, his ponytail barely visible,
    Burton nurses a deadly serious devotion to a plant that makes others simply
    giggle.

    One of only two growers chosen for the medical cannabis program, this
    American expatriate in Rotterdam was sure he had found nirvana in the
    Netherlands, a place to fulfill his dream of establishing marijuana as a
    valid medical treatment. His euphoria about the Dutch experiment, however,
    has been short-lived. The Dutch program's one-year anniversary is this
    month and Burton and health officials are clashing over what to charge for
    medical cannabis, how to test it and even how many varieties to sell.

    "Everything I have ever worked for is going down the tubes," he said.

    Burton says government regulations like testing and packaging are ruining
    his business. His medical mari
    juana, which is radiated to remove bacteria,
    sells at a drugstore for about $11.50 a gram; local cafes, so-called coffee
    shops, often charge less than half that, so many patients understandably
    choose to go there instead.

    "The government here is sticking its neck out on this project and the whole
    world is watching," Burton said. "Unfortunately, they have made some
    misjudgments and miscalculations."

    But if Burton's mission to make pot the world's next wonder drug has
    already cost him his home and his freedom in the United States, his
    mouthing-off on marijuana's behalf seems likely to result in the loss of
    his government contract, particularly since, in the government's view, it
    violates a confidentiality agreement.

    At the least, his recent appearance on a national television network here
    lambasting the medical cannabis program has exasperated Dutch officials.

    "Certainly there are problems, but it's not a flop," said Willem Scholten,
    director of the Dutch Office of Medicinal Cannabis. "It's too early to make
    such a judgment."

    Burton has not seen eye to eye with the powers-that-be ever since he went
    to federal prison in 1988, when a federal jury ruled that the marijuana
    growing at his farm constituted possession in spite of his claims that he
    needed it to ward off his glaucoma. He has stuck to that defense since,
    convinced that three joints a day -- he prefers the term cigarettes -- have
    staved off a form of glaucoma that afflicts some members of his family.

    After his release from prison, Burton decided he had little choice but to
    leave the United States. His criminal case had attracted enough news media
    attention -- even on national tabloid television -- to make him an
    undesirable, even among drug dealers.

    So he moved to the Netherlands, where he could buy and smoke pot care-free.
    In time, Burton started distributing marijuana to Dutch patients, which was
    technically illegal but tolerated. Business boomed and he opened the
    Institute of Medical Marijuana in 1993.

    Three years ago, the Dutch government put out a call for medical cannabis
    growers. With his long experience in the field, Burton easily met the
    ministry's requirements, including that he deliver cannabis of a consistent
    quality during three separate trial runs. In fact, he can grow 134
    varieties, slice it, dice it and package it tastefully in a joint, tea bag
    or even cup of chocolate milk.

Comments

  1. BA
    AMSTERDAM, Netherlands -- There's a whiff of crisis in the air at the Dutch Health Ministry: It's sitting on a pile of pot that it just can't sell.


    The Netherlands rolled out a program last year that allows patients to buy prescription marijuana at any pharmacy. Some medical insurance policies cover at least part of the cost, but often not enough to offset the pharmacy price.


    In a country where any adult can walk into a "coffee shop" and smoke a joint for much less than the government price, many say the experiment is a bust.


    "I think it's a shame that they can't deliver a cannabis product a little bit cheaper than the coffee shops," said David Watson, head of Hortapharm, an Amsterdam-based company licensed to research and develop cannabis for pharmaceutical use.


    "Why is it that a legal commodity is more expensive than an illegal commodity?"


    The government says packaging and distribution push up its prices, and acknowledges its program may be foundering. Of some 450 pounds in anticipated sales, only about 175 pounds have been sold, said Bas Kuik, spokesman for the Office of Medicinal Cannabis, an arm of the Dutch Ministry of Health.


    The government sells two varieties ranging from about $10 to $12 a gram - enough for up to four joints. Coffee shops sell it for as little as $5 a gram, with only the highest-quality weed fetching prices comparable to the government's.


    Under the liberal Dutch approach dating to the 1970s, the law forbids privately growing and selling marijuana, and has no tolerance for dealing in hard drugs, but refrains from prosecuting the sale of small amounts.


    The medicinal program allows pharmacies to sell standardized, quality-controlled marijuana from authorized growers to sufferers of chronic or terminal diseases such as multiple sclerosis, HIV/AIDS, neuralgia, cancer and Tourette's syndrome.


    The competition comes from hundreds of marijuana bars, thinly disguised as "coffee shops" to maintain the fiction of legality. Though patronized mostly by recreational smokers and tourists, people in pain who find relief from cannabis are also customers, paying less than they would to a pharmacy


    Erik Bosman, manager of the Dampkring coffee shop, says many of his regulars are medical patients, and he even used to offer discounts for people with prescriptions.


    At midday in the Dampkring, off one of Amsterdam's busiest shopping streets, dozens of mostly young people sit in a haze of smoke, sipping soft drinks, smoking prepackaged joints or rolling their own. A scene was shot here for the movie "Ocean's Twelve," and pictures of George Clooney and Brad Pitt with the staff hang on the wall.


    The menu, with 23 types of marijuana and 18 of hashish, carries a "fair smoke" assurance that the cannabis is organically grown.


    But many coffee shops are dingy, unappealing hangouts that hardly inspire a feeling of pharmaceutical confidence, and some seriously ill people will pay more for guaranteed quality, especially if it's covered by insurance.


    One of two legal marijuana growers for the government program is James Burton, an American who immigrated after spending a year in a U.S. prison for growing marijuana to fight glaucoma. He founded the Stichting Institute of Medical Marijuana in Rotterdam, and for more than a decade sold pot directly to as many as 1,500 patients. He estimates about 10,000 people in the Netherlands use it for medical reasons.


    In 2001 he signed an exclusive contract to provide the government program with cannabis. But the five-year agreement was terminated prematurely after he talked about it on Dutch television and was accused by the government of breaking a confidentiality clause.


    "I finally had to come out publicly," Burton told The Associated Press. "The program's not working. They have less than 1,000 patients." he suggested the conservative coalition, which replaced the more liberal government that created the program, was not promoting it.


    "The whole country is leaning to the right," he said. "I think a year from now this program's gone."


    Kuik, the official, confirmed the program is up for review early next year.


    ---
  2. Alfa
    DUTCH GOVERNMENT CAN'T SELL ITS POT

    AMSTERDAM, Netherlands - There's a whiff of crisis in the air at the
    Dutch Health Ministry: It's sitting on a pile of pot that it just can't
    sell.

    The Netherlands rolled out a program last year that allows patients to
    buy prescription marijuana at any pharmacy. Some medical insurance
    policies cover at least part of the cost, but often not enough to
    offset the pharmacy price. In a country where any adult can walk into
    a "coffee shop" and smoke a joint for much less than the government
    price, many say the experiment is a bust.

    "I think it's a shame that they can't deliver a cannabis product a
    little bit cheaper than the coffee shops," said David Watson, head of
    Hortapharm, an Amsterdam-based company licensed to research and
    develop cannabis for pharmaceutical use.

    "Why is it that a legal commodity is more expensive than an illegal
    commodity?"

    The government says packaging and distribution push up its prices, and
    acknowledges its program may be foundering. Of some 450 pounds in
    anticipated sales, only about 175 pounds have been sold, said Bas
    Kuik, spokesman for the Office of Medicinal Cannabis, an arm of the
    Dutch Ministry of Health.

    The government sells two varieties ranging from about $10 to $12 a
    gram - enough for up to four joints. Coffee shops sell it for $5 a
    gram, with only the highest-quality weed fetching prices comparable to
    the government's.
  3. Alfa
    DUTCH GOVERNMENT FACES MARIJUANA GLUT

    AMSTERDAM, Netherlands - There's a whiff of crisis in the air at the
    Dutch Health Ministry: It's sitting on a pile of pot that it just can't sell.

    The Netherlands rolled out a program last year that allows patients to
    buy prescription marijuana at any pharmacy. Some medical insurance
    policies cover at least part of the cost, but often not enough to
    offset the pharmacy price.

    In a country where any adult can walk into a "coffee shop" and smoke a
    joint for much less than the government price, many say the experiment
    is a bust.

    "I think it's a shame that they can't deliver a cannabis product a
    little bit cheaper than the coffee shops," said David Watson, head of
    Hortapharm, an Amsterdam-based company licensed to research and
    develop cannabis for pharmaceutical use.

    "Why is it that a legal commodity is more expensive than an illegal
    commodity?"

    The government says packaging and distribution push up its prices, and
    acknowledges its program may be foundering. Of some 450 pounds in
    anticipated sales, only about 175 pounds have been sold, said Bas
    Kuik, spokesman for the Office of Medicinal Cannabis, an arm of the
    Dutch Ministry of Health.

    The government sells two varieties ranging from about $10 to $12 a
    gram - enough for up to four joints. Coffee shops sell it for as
    little as $5 a gram, with only the highest-quality weed fetching
    prices comparable to the government's.

    Under the liberal Dutch approach dating to the 1970s, the law forbids
    privately growing and selling marijuana, and has no tolerance for
    dealing in hard drugs, but refrains from prosecuting the sale of small
    amounts.

    The medicinal program allows pharmacies to sell standardized,
    quality-controlled marijuana from authorized growers to sufferers of
    chronic or terminal diseases such as multiple sclerosis, HIV/AIDS,
    neuralgia, cancer and Tourette's syndrome.

    The competition comes from hundreds of marijuana bars, thinly
    disguised as "coffee shops" to maintain the fiction of legality.
    Though patronized mostly by recreational smokers and tourists, people
    in pain who find relief from cannabis are also customers, paying less
    than they would to a pharmacy

    Erik Bosman, manager of the Dampkring coffee shop, says many of his
    regulars are medical patients, and he even used to offer discounts for
    people with prescriptions.

    At midday in the Dampkring, off one of Amsterdam's bus
    iest shopping
    streets, dozens of mostly young people sit in a haze of smoke, sipping
    soft drinks, smoking prepackaged joints or rolling their own. A scene
    was shot here for the movie "Ocean's Twelve," and pictures of George
    Clooney and Brad Pitt with the staff hang on the wall.

    The menu, with 23 types of marijuana and 18 of hashish, carries a
    "fair smoke" assurance that the cannabis is organically grown.

    But many coffee shops are dingy, unappealing hangouts that hardly
    inspire a feeling of pharmaceutical confidence, and some seriously ill
    people will pay more for guaranteed quality, especially if it's
    covered by insurance.

    One of two legal marijuana growers for the government program is James
    Burton, an American who immigrated after spending a year in a U.S.
    prison for growing marijuana to fight glaucoma. He founded the
    Stichting Institute of Medical Marijuana in Rotterdam, and for more
    than a decade sold pot directly to as many as 1,500 patients. He
    estimates about 10,000 people in the Netherlands use it for medical
    reasons.

    In 2001 he signed an exclusive contract to provide the government
    program with cannabis. But the five-year agreement was terminated
    prematurely after he talked about it on Dutch television and was
    accused by the government of breaking a confidentiality clause.

    "I finally had to come out publicly," Burton told The Associated
    Press. "The program's not working. They have less than 1,000
    patients." he suggested the conservative coalition, which replaced the
    more liberal government that created the program, was not promoting
    it.

    "The whole country is leaning to the right," he said. "I think a year
    from now this program's gone."

    Kuik, the official, confirmed the program is up for review early next
    year.
  4. Alfa
    DUTCH RETHINK MEDICINAL SALES


    AMSTERDAM, Netherlands - The Dutch Health Ministry, unhappy with legal sales of medical marijuana through pharmacies, will re-evaluate its program later this year and may close it, a spokesman said yesterday.


    In a country where unauthorized marijuana has been easily available for decades, the government was surprised to find that prescription marijuana produced under stringent quality controls has been far less successful than predicted, said Health Ministry spokesman Bas Kuik.


    The government is selling less than one-third of the marijuana it thought it would and is losing money, said Mr. Kuik. Doctors who had lobbied for legalizing prescription marijuana in the 1990s failed to prescribe it once it was available in drugstores. Sales began in September 2003 and fell flat, Mr. Kuik said.


    One reason may be the high price of prescribed marijuana, compared with the product sold at the neighbourhood coffee shop. The prescription marijuana is about double the price of the unprescribed drug -- or about $280 U.S. an ounce -- since it must cover the costs of regulating production, packaging and sales tax.
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