The German government approved measures to legalise the use of marijuana for individuals with serious illnesses.

Under the law introduced by health minister Hermann Groehe, patients with serious illnesses for which other forms of treatment have been ineffective will have the drug paid for by their public health insurance.

"We want to give the best possible care to the seriously ill," said Christian Democrat Groehe in a statement on 4 May, reported Deutsche Welle.

In recent years anti-marijuana legislation has been relaxed in a number of countries, with the drug effective in relieving the pain caused by cancer, glaucoma, Hepatitis C, HIV and Aids, among other serious conditions.

German government's drugs commissioner Marlene Mortler said in the statement that "cannabis is not a harmless substance" and that it will be available from pharmacies only with special permission.

The bill also allows the state to grow the drug, but until specially supervised plantations have been established, pharmacies will be supplied by imports.

The approval of the German Bundestag is likely to be a formality, with the law to come into force in 2017.