Ukraine is on the verge of becoming the latest country to legalize medical cannabis, after a bill that would allow patients with certain conditions to access cannabis-based medicines passed its first reading in the parliament on December 21, 2023.
A Historic Vote for Medical Cannabis
The bill, which was supported by the Ministry of Health and President Volodymyr Zelensky, received 276 votes in favor and 57 against in the Verkhovna Rada, the unicameral legislature of Ukraine. The bill will now undergo a second reading and a final vote, before potentially going to the president’s desk for signing.
The bill aims to create a legal framework for the cultivation, production, distribution, and use of medical cannabis in Ukraine, as well as to establish a licensing system for growers, manufacturers, and dispensaries. Doctors will be able to prescribe medical cannabis to patients with conditions such as cancer, epilepsy, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), chronic pain, multiple sclerosis, and glaucoma.
The bill also stipulates that medical cannabis will remain a prohibited substance for recreational purposes, and that patients will need to register with a national database and obtain a special card to access their medicine. The law is expected to take effect in the second half of 2024, six months after its publication.
A Long-Awaited Reform for Millions of Patients
The legalization of medical cannabis in Ukraine has been a long-awaited reform for millions of patients who suffer from debilitating diseases and conditions that could benefit from cannabis-based treatments. According to the health ministry, there are more than two million people in Ukraine who desperately need medical cannabis, including cancer patients, war veterans, and children with epilepsy.
Many of these patients have been forced to either rely on imported medicines, which are expensive and scarce, or to resort to the black market, which exposes them to legal risks and low-quality products. Some have even moved to neighboring countries, such as Poland or Germany, where medical cannabis is legal and accessible.
The legalization of medical cannabis is also seen as a humanitarian gesture in the context of the ongoing war with Russia, which has left more than 13,000 people dead and millions displaced since 2014. The war has also caused widespread trauma and mental health issues among the population, especially among the soldiers and civilians who have witnessed or experienced violence and atrocities.
According to the health ministry, 57 percent of Ukrainians are at risk of developing PTSD as a result of the war, and many of them could benefit from medical cannabis as a safe and effective treatment. The ministry also hopes that the legalization of medical cannabis will help reduce the stigma and discrimination that many patients face in the society.
A Promising Step for the Cannabis Industry
The legalization of medical cannabis in Ukraine is also expected to boost the development of the cannabis industry in the country, which has a favorable climate and soil for growing the plant. The bill envisages that the cultivation and production of medical cannabis will be done by domestic companies, which will create jobs and generate tax revenue for the state.
The bill also allows for scientific and industrial use of cannabis, which could open up new opportunities for research and innovation in the fields of medicine, biotechnology, agriculture, and cosmetics. The bill also encourages international cooperation and exchange of best practices with other countries that have legalized medical cannabis, such as Canada, Israel, and the Netherlands.
The legalization of medical cannabis in Ukraine could also have a positive impact on the regional and global cannabis market, as the country could become a potential exporter and supplier of cannabis-based medicines and products to other countries, especially in Eastern Europe and Asia, where the demand for medical cannabis is growing.
A Controversial Issue for the Society
Despite the overwhelming support for the bill in the parliament, the legalization of medical cannabis in Ukraine is still a controversial and divisive issue for the society, which remains largely conservative and influenced by the Orthodox Church. Many opponents of the bill argue that medical cannabis is a gateway to recreational use and addiction, and that it could harm the health and morality of the nation.
Some of the critics of the bill include members of the opposition parties, such as the pro-Russian Opposition Platform – For Life and the nationalist Svoboda, as well as some religious leaders, such as Patriarch Filaret of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church – Kyiv Patriarchate, who called the bill a “sin” and a “crime” against God and the people.
The supporters of the bill, on the other hand, argue that medical cannabis is a matter of human rights and dignity, and that it could improve the quality of life and well-being of millions of patients who have no other effective options. They also point out that medical cannabis has been proven by scientific evidence to be safe and beneficial for a variety of conditions, and that it has been legalized in more than 50 countries around the world, including many European Union members.
The supporters of the bill also emphasize that the legalization of medical cannabis does not mean the legalization of recreational use, and that the bill has strict regulations and safeguards to prevent abuse and diversion. They also appeal to the compassion and empathy of the society, and urge the people to listen to the voices and stories of the patients who need medical cannabis.