Should Ukraine Legalize Medicinal Cannabis?
15 June, 2019
Employee takes cares of medicinal marijuana (cannabis) plants in the greenhouse of the industrial pharmaceutical center in Lod, Israel, January 23, 2019 EPA-EFE / BEA KALLOS

On June 15, hundreds marched outside the Ukrainian Parliament to demand the legalization of medicinal cannabis in the country. The legalization of medicinal cannabis - in particular, cannabis oils - was supported by the President of Ukraine Volodymyr Zelenskyy in an interview to RBC-Ukraine. However, it will not be just up to Zelenskyy to approve the law, the draft of which is already in the Parliament. The Parliament is expected to consider approving it on July 11, just 10 days before the anticipated July 21 snap parliamentary election.

In March a petition to the Parliament demanding legal use of cannabis for medical and scientific purposes gained the necessary number of votes (25,000) for its consideration by the Parliamentary Committee. Acting Health Minister Ulana Suprun supported the petition and called for the promotion of legalization of medical cannabis. Subsequently, the Parliamentary Committee on Human Rights, National Minorities and Interethnic Relations unanimously supported the bill on the use of marijuana for medical purposes on May 15.

The petition concerning the legalization of “medical” cannabis, was registered in the Ukrainian Parliament on May 20. It was meant to be considered at the first plenary meeting of the Parliament after the day of registration. It was indeed on the agenda, but the Parliament failed to consider the bill #10313 neither on May 28, nor May 30.

The authors of the bill claim: Ukraine has perfect conditions for growing cannabis, so not only will the legalization of medicinal cannabis help those in pain but it will also bring money to the country.

What’s in the Law?

The bill lays the foundation for an entire industry — the cultivation of medical cannabis, research, the manufacture of drugs and their clinical research, storage and destruction. To make it all work better, the MPs also propose amendments to seven laws, as well as to the Criminal Code and the Code of Administrative Violations.

The draft law — entitled “On Amendments to Certain Legislative Acts of Ukraine On Ensuring the Fundamental Human Right to Life” — does not once mention the phrase “medicinal cannabis.” Instead it mentions:

  • plants (cannabis) that do not contain narcotic substances in dangerous quantities (the so-called "technical" varieties of hemp, dried straw which contains up to 0.08% of psychoactive THC;

  • plants containing small amounts of narcotic substances (the limit of the content of THC is determined by the Cabinet of Ministers of Ukraine).

For ease of presentation, we from now on will refer to the former as “technical cannabis” and the latter as “medicinal cannabis.” Though medicine can also be made from the “technical types.”

The bill also mentions hemp that contains high doses of drugs in them. These are not in the plans for decriminalization.

Flowers of technical hemp are sorted in the workshop of the industrial pharmaceutical center in Lod, Israel, January 23, 2019

Who can grow and who can buy?

If the law is passed, any entrepreneur will be able to grow “technical cannabis.” Educational and scientific institutions will be able to grow it without any restrictions or requirement for a license, too. However, there will be a restriction of up to 50 plants for those who want to grow “medicinal cannabis.” These institutions will hold the right to make medical drugs from cannabis, and to conduct clinical trials.

Patients on the basis of medical report and the prescription from a doctor will be allowed to grow up to four plants of "technical" or "medical" cannabis. But it will be necessary to report this to the authorities within five days from the beginning of the process. National Police will be able to check compliance.

"Medical" cannabis can only be grown in greenhouses from seeds from suppliers, included in the State Register of Producers of Seeds and Garden Material.

Quotas for growing such types of cannabis are not established.

Enterprises will be able to get a state subsidy for the industrial cultivation of flax and hemp.

Packaging of dried cannabis at the industrial pharmaceutical center in Lod, Israel, January 23, 2019

Circulation and storage

A direct ban on the circulation of "medical" cannabis will be canceled. Its circulation will be allowed for industrial, scientific, educational, and medical purposes.

Retail sales of plants or medicine can either be done directly by the manufacturer, or through pharmacies that have a corresponding license. And only with prescription.

A person who has grown or purchased cannabis for themselves can store no more than prescribed on one recipe, or up to four plants.

If law enforcement officers find "suspicious" plants or drugs in a vehicle, baggage or personal belongings of a citizen, they can only be confiscated for further examination, without the detention of the owner.

If the plants or drugs that were transported legally are seized, the owner has the right to compensation. And if seizure has threatened a person's life or health, law enforcers would be held liable for exceeding power or official authority.

Scientific and higher education institutions that use "medical" cannabis for scientific and educational purposes must keep all components in specially equipped premises protected from theft.

If these conditions are violated, the institution will lose the right to continue to use cannabis in its activities, and all drugs and plants will be confiscated.

The license for medical marijuana for medical purposes is issued for 5 years. The following prices are proposed:

  • up to 1000 plants - 100 times the subsistence level (about 192 thousand hryvnia)

  • over 1000 plants - 500 times the subsistence level (about 960 thousand hryvnia) per each hectare.

The process of preparing an extract of cannabis in an industrial pharmaceutical center in Lod, Israel, on January 23, 2019

Cannabis-based drugs for personal consumption for medical purposes will be allowed through checkpoints only with prescription.

Valid prescription will also allow import and export through the state border, as well as transportation of drugs and cannabis with a low content of narcotic substance on the territory of Ukraine.

Criminal liability

A person who secretly transported “medical” drugs  through the customs border will be exempt from criminal liability if they were purchased for personal consumption on the basis of a physician's prescription and in admissible quantities.

Changes to Articles 310 and 320 of the Criminal Code of Ukraine effectively abolish criminal liability for the cultivation and circulation of "technical" and "medical" cannabis.

What experts say

According to one of the authors of the bill on the legalization of medical cannabis, MP Oleksandr Opanasenko there are more benefits to its approval than pure medical use. Opanasenko argues that it would help Ukrainian farmers enter international markets, where cannabis is trending and has the potential for more growth.

The cannabis market is a blue ocean currently, so there is a real opportunity to enter now and avoid having to catch up later and try to get a market share of whatever remains then.

Ukrainian farmers currently earn $200-300 per hectare growing rapeseed. Cannabis is more lucrative and does less damage to the soil. Opanasenko believes Ukraine has great potential in this area and the registered bill would allow the implementation of this.

The MP notes that the bill only concerns medical cannabis that has a minimal content of THC, the psychoactive part. Moreover, cultivation will be tightly controlled - outdoor growth in the fields will be forbidden, and all plants will be highly regulated and protected. Opanasenko states that this type of cannabis is “just like any other crop grown on the planet”.

Ever since the Ukrainian Parliament registered a petition demanding amendments to the legislation so that cannabis could be used for medical and scientific purposes, Ukraine’s acting Health Minister Ulana Suprun has spoken in support of it: “Scientists and doctors of the world claim that such use is justified”.

Suprun noted that the topic of using drugs for medical purposes is often manipulated. The Minister argues that medical cannabis has been proven to help alleviate the suffering of patients and normalize their well-being in a number of serious diseases and conditions. “Therefore, to use it in medicine, of course with caution, is a normal world practice,” Suprun wrote.

An extract of cannabis, ready for use in the treatment of patients, is checked at an industrial pharmaceutical center in Lod, Israel, on January 23, 2019

Currently in Ukraine the use of medical cannabis for medical and scientific purposes is strictly prohibited.

“Although the use of such drugs would help almost two million citizens who suffer from chronic pain and other disorders ... Patient access to cannabis-based drugs means realization of their right to medical care. It is important to support the legalization of the use of medical cannabis for scientific purposes and medicine,” the head of the Ministry of Health noted.

Suprun goes on to explain that medical cannabis is used in the treatment of such diseases as Alzheimer's disease, cancer, chronic pain, irritable bowel syndrome, including Crohn's disease and ulcerative colitis, multiple sclerosis, and epilepsy.

Situation in other countries

Greece issued the first licenses for growing medical marijuana in November.

The United States for the first time approved the sale of a medical drug based on cannabis in June 2018.

In a number of European countries, Australia, and Canada cannabis has been legalized to various extents.

Georgia was the first post-Soviet country to liberalize use of cannabis in 2018.

Luxembourg, Mexico, and New Zealand are in the process of consideration of legalization of recreational use of cannabis.