Activists called for the legalization of medical marijuana during a rally in the Ukrainian capital of Kiev on October 28, 2017. Around 300 to 400 protesters gathered at the March of Freedom rally and peacefully urged the Ukrainian government to change an earlier order issued by the Ministry of Health that criminalized the possession of 5 grams or more of weed, even for personal use.
The participants converged at the downtown area’s Mikhaylivska Square and passed by the Health Ministry and the Cabinet of Ministers building while holding banners that read “Freedom for Plants, Will for People.” They were entertained by reggae music.
According to Taras Ratushny, the Freedom March press coordinator, the pro-decriminalization demonstrators just want changes to the Health Ministry’s order, noting that five grams was the smallest amount among the countries in Europe.
Ratushny also said that most court sentences in Ukraine that are drug-related involve the possession of marijuana for personal use, while sentences on crimes related to organized drug trafficking are rare and almost unheard of.
Nationalists try to prevent pro-decriminalization rally
Another group of people also turned up in droves in Downtown Kiev to counter the pro-decriminalization demonstration. Nationalists burned a cap bearing a cannabis leaf, chanted, and held banners with the slogan “Sport. Health. Nationalism.”
The clash between the nationalists and the pro-decriminalization protesters turned ugly and riot police had to be called in to protect the protesters from and restrain the nationalists.
Ukraine’s marijuana culture and legislation
Marijuana is illegal in all of Ukraine and any activity related to marijuana, including possession and trafficking, is punishable by law. However, while the government takes its drug laws seriously, Ukrainian police are considered very tolerant when it comes to marijuana. Police are said to take charitable donations from offenders who are caught in possession of the substance. Given that the offender is caught with very little amount of marijuana and is polite, a bribe of at least $50 could mean that he or she is good to go.
Meanwhile, according to Ukrainian law, the cultivation of up to 10 marijuana plants without the intent to sell qualifies as administrative violation and is subject to a fine from 18 to 100 income tax units (non-taxable) as well as in the seizure of the plants.
Despite this, however, marijuana is often grown in small plantations in black soil and hidden among corn stalks in the central and southern areas of Ukraine.
Under the law, the limit for the possession of marijuana without intent to sell is only up to 5 grams. For this, there is no criminal liability and there are already plans to raise the limit to 10 grams.
Not the first pro-decriminalization protest
The recent demonstration is not the first protest this year. It can be recalled that in May, around 200 people gathered at the Ukrainian government’s headquarters in Kiev demanding that marijuana be decriminalized and that the provision under the criminal code that outlaws marijuana possession be cancelled.
The crowd held posters with slogans that read “Freedom, quality, decriminalization” and “Weed heals.” They also released green-colored balloons into the air to represent their hope that the authorities also release those who were previously convicted for the minor offense of marijuana possession. They believe that people should be given the choice to use weed to deal with their stress.
The protesters also contended that by decriminalizing marijuana, the police would no longer have to pay too much attention to minor offenses and instead get to focus on more serious crimes.
According to a report by Hromadske International, the Ukranian authorities had arrested a record low of 729 people for selling drugs in 2016. Meanwhile, the local courts had convicted more than 5,000 individuals for the possession of illegal substances but without the intent of selling them.