A few months ago, Poland joined the list of European Union member-countries that have legalized the use of cannabis for medical purposes when its Lower House of Parliament voted in favor of the medical marijuana bill and when Polish president Andrzej Duda signed it into law.
Fast and steady
It can be said that cannabis reform in Poland moved fast and steady.
To recall, public debate regarding medical marijuana in the country started to intensify two years ago after a controversy involving a doctor at a children’s hospital in Warsaw erupted. The doctor was fired for having administered cannabis on an experimental basis to his young patients who were suffering from epilepsy without the knowledge of his superiors.
In 2016, the debate was revived by leftist lawmaker Tomasz Kalita. He suffered from brain cancer and passed away early this year.
Also last year, the health minister gave in to public pressure and allowed the refund of certain treatments using cannabis-based products that are imported at the patient’s request, following authorization from the ministry.
In February 2016, a bill that calls for the legalization of medical marijuana was launched. Piotr Krzysztof Liroy-Marzec, a Member of Parliament, was responsible for putting the legislation forward. According to Liroy-Marzec, the bill is a product of shared effort by an unofficial group of volunteers called Coalition for Medical Marijuana.
Near the end of June, the bill was voted forward by the Lower House of Parliament, with an overwhelming 440 lawmakers voting in its favor. Only two members voted against it, while one abstained.
On June 29, 2017, the Senate – the Upper House of Parliament – voted to pass the medical cannabis bill. Then on July 5, recommendation was given by the Health Care Committee to move the bill forward.
President Duda signed the bill into law shortly after. The bill will take effect in October, with a cannabis-based institute coinciding with the new legislation. The Polish Institute of Cannabis will educate doctors, pharmacists, and other medical professionals, and the public about cannabis.
Poland’s current cannabis culture
In Poland, the possession of most drugs, including cannabis, for recreational use is illegal. In 1951, cannabis was classified as a narcotic and in 1999, possession and use of cannabis became a crime.
The simple possession of marijuana subjects offenders to a maximum of three years in jail. But in 2011, an amendment to the drug policy gave the prosecutors the discretion not to pursue cases involving the possession of small amounts of cannabis.
Meanwhile, since 2012, doctors have been prescribing synthetic cannabis, and certain pharmacies have been filling these prescriptions.
Provisions of the medical cannabis bill
The bill intentionally does not lay out specific qualifying illnesses and medical conditions. This is in order to allow doctors the discretion and flexibility to prescribe medical cannabis based on medical research. However, the usual medical conditions that qualify cannabis treatment include severe or treatment-resistant epilepsy, multiple sclerosis, chronic pain, nausea and vomiting caused by chemotherapy and cancer treatment, and AIDS.
Since the bill does not permit the domestic cultivation of cannabis, the importation of existing cannabis-based medicine is the only option. Canada is the most probable source for high-quality medical marijuana imports.
Under the new legislation, pharmacies will be licensed to sell cannabis products such as tinctures, resin, extracts, and dried cannabis flower once the import regulations are set in place.
What about recreational cannabis?
Liroy-Marzec said that the next steps he would take is to convince the government that domestic cultivation of cannabis plants is necessary and to eventually legalize it. He is also hoping that his fellow lawmakers will consider decriminalizing adult-use cannabis in a few years.