Hopes run high for Marijuana law reform in Greece

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Last week was the first time that a Greek store selling marijuana paraphernalia, CBD Oil Shop, was blessed by a Greek Orthodox priest.

Archbishop Ireneos of Crete, blessed CBC Oil on 26 September, according to local custom where new businesses or shops are ‘blessed’ by priests for good luck.

Cannabis, originally from India, was introduced to Ancient Greeks around 300BCE. It was used for recreation, cloth, rope, boat sails, as well as in their pharmacopoeia for treatment of inflammation, pain, and injuries. Greece was one of the world’s major producers of hemp fibres and rope.

Marijuana was banned in 1890 by the Greek government which associated hashish with the Ottoman East from which Greece’s new ruling classes sought to culturally distance themselves at a time when they sought to become more western. Regardless, Greeks continued to smoke hashish and people used it for rope, fibre, and as a mild relaxant and mild analgesic.

After the 1912, and 1913 Balkan Wars, returning Greek soldiers smoked hashish, a habit picked up in Ottoman Gallipoli and eastern Thrace.

During the Great Catastrophe when over 1.5m Asian Minor Greeks were pushed out of Asia Minor, (Turkey), by the Ottomans, Greek refugees brought with them a new music, rebetika, and a culture of smoking hashish. The Rebetes (Turkish meaning ‘rebel”) hung out in ‘tekkes’ or rooms attached to coffee houses to smoke hashish.

Greek governments harangued rebetes and sought to give them, and their habits, a bad name.

Rembetes were known for taking hashish.

Current laws regarding prohibition and consumption in Greece are more progressive than the past. Consumers who run afoul of the law are treated as patients rather than criminals. Still, Greek Law No. 4139/2013 stipulates that for those who obtain, process, or cultivate cannabis plants in numbers indicating even personal use may still be sentenced to prison, although for no more than five months.

In contrast, currently twenty plus states in the U.S. have legalised marijuana for recreational or medical use. The Greek Government, on the other hand, did not take up any conversation about legalising or regulating cannabis until 2016, despite a thriving, albeit very underground, cannabis scene. More recently in the EU, Luxemburg legalised marijuana use while other states like Portugal have decriminalised it.

In 2017, former SYRIZA Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras, announced that medical cannabis would be legal for patients with a doctor’s prescription. Access remains a problem.

In 2018, Greece granted licenses to two companies to grow cannabis, while twelve more are expected to be issued. Ekathimerini newspaper claimed the ‘rebirth’ of the hemp industry brought a ‘renaissance’ to the economy, thanks to Greece’s climate which is ideal for growing quality cannabis.

Interest in the Greek market is coming from investors in Canada, Israel, Germany, Belgium, France and Russia. More than 30 countries have applied to invest in Greece’s nascent cannabis market, which could put Greece ahead of Denmark as the EU’s top cannabis supplier.
There is optimism that Greece will again develop large productions of medicinal cannabis as well as industrial hemp, and analysts believe that the investments under consideration could lead to around 7,000 jobs, bring investments of around 1.5 billion euros, and position Greece as an international hub for cultivation and processing.

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