Cyprus has taken steps towards marijuana reforms, and in July this year, the cabinet approved a bill that allows the use and cultivation of medical marijuana. The bill will allow the government to issue two licenses for the cultivation of marijuana in the country for a period of 15 years.
While the draft law represents a change in the government’s attitude towards marijuana, the government has also set very detailed and tight restrictions related to the use, import, and distribution of pharmaceutical-grade cannabis.
Current marijuana legislation
Marijuana is illegal in the country and is even classified as a Class B substance. This means that anyone caught using marijuana could face life imprisonment while those caught in possession can get a jail term of up to 8 years. First-time offenders are usually required to pay a fine of €400 to €1,000, depending on the amount of marijuana found as well as on the severity of the case.
As for medical marijuana under the current law, the health minister holds the authority to grant permission to patients who need it for the treatment of their medical condition. However, as it is, these patients need to face long waits before they can get this permission, and they have to use imported cannabis oil distributed through specific pharmacies. The orders for cannabis oil are also handed to named patients who have been awarded with the special permission.
What’s wrong with the current marijuana policy?
Petros Evdokas of Cyprus’ Friends of Cannabis movement says that while the government does need to regulate medical marijuana and while there are already very good safeguards in place, the process should be faster and more responsive to patient’s needs. He notes that because of the delays, almost half of the number of patients who apply for permission die before they get medication.
According to him, medical marijuana should also be accessible to a much wider patient base because there are many people who need it. Currently, only cancer patients are granted permission to get medical marijuana.
Evdokas contends that the health minister isn’t exercising his authority to the fullest.
The legislative proposal
According to Health Minister Giorgos Pamborides, the objective of the new proposal was to attract the attention of international investors and to get them interested in applying for the government licenses to cultivate medical marijuana in Cyprus. This, in turn, will attract capital and boost research and development within the pharmaceutical sector.
As to why they need international investors, Pamborides says that these investors are the ones with the expertise and the scientific know-how, as well as the necessary funds.
The legislative proposal has already been sent to parliament for further discussion by the MPs.
Concerns about the legislative proposal
The new marijuana bill has provisions that make the abuse of marijuana almost impossible, especially by the licensees and by recreational users.
For one, it has been said that the legislative proposal provides that only patients who have already exhausted all the available treatments will qualify to use medical marijuana. This provision, according to Evdokas, is a violation of patients’ rights under the European charter.
Another limitation, Evdokas notes, is that the bill is going to place restrictions on which medical professionals or doctors can prescribe marijuana. Presently, he says, there are only six of them allowed to prescribe the drug, and most of them admitted not knowing how to even use it medically. He says there is a need for doctors, nurses, pharmacists, psychologists, and patients and their relatives to undergo educational seminars and trainings with regard to the use of medical marijuana.
He also takes issue with the provision that there will only be two licenses for marijuana cultivation, processing, and distribution available with a 15-year limit. He argues that cultivation must be open to individual patients, citing the European Union law’s prohibition of monopolies and oligopolies.
Evdokas also contends that instead of importing cannabis oil, Cyprus should produce its own marijuana for medical uses. He notes that the country has an ideal climate for growing the plant and believes that producing home-grown cannabis oil would significantly reduce the price and will also benefit national economy.