Zelensky urges Ukraine’s parliament to legalize Medical Cannabis
Ukraine's President Volodymyr Zelensky calls MPs to speed the process to legalize medical cannabis amid the war against Russia’s invasion.
In a speech in front of the Verkhovna Rada, the unicameral Parliament of Ukraine, on the occasion of Constitution Day on June 28, Zelensky stressed the need to approve the long-awaited medical cannabis bill, which has been stalled since 2021.
The Ukrainian efforts to push back the Russian invasion have not only resulted in thousands of casualties, injuries, and the destruction of towns and infrastructure but have also inflicted less visible wounds upon the Ukrainian population.
It has been widely documented that thousands of soldiers and civilians are suffering from Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), a disorder that develops in some individuals who have experienced a shocking, scary, or dangerous event, such as the war in Ukraine. In this context, the Ukrainian government believes that treatment with medical cannabis can be beneficial, as proved by several scientific studies.
"All the world's best practices, all the most effective policies, all the solutions, no matter how difficult or unusual they may seem to us, must be applied in Ukraine so that Ukrainians, all our citizens, do not have to endure the pain, stress, and trauma of war. In particular, we must finally fairly legalize cannabis-based medicines for all those who need them, with appropriate scientific research and controlled Ukrainian production." Zelensky said, speaking in front of the Verkhovna Rada.
In June 2022, Health Minister Viktor Liashko announced that the Ukrainian government had endorsed a bill introduced in 2021 to legalize medical cannabis, highlighting their commitment to this decision. However, little progress has been made in speeding up the legislative process to enact the draft law.
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The first version of the bill aimed to enhance the quality of palliative medical service, promote cannabis-related medical research, as well as broaden patient access to treatment for over 50 conditions, including cancer, PTSD, neurological diseases, and chronic neuropathic pain.
The proposal also envisioned strict regulations for the cultivation, production, and sale of medical cannabis, including licensing for cultivation and scientific research, as well as a tracking system to monitor the entire product cycle.
Under this proposal, patients would obtain medical cannabis products through electronic prescriptions based on doctor-recommended indications. The bill specified that the THC percentage in medical cannabis products would be determined through laboratory tests conducted by designated enterprises, institutions, and organizations.
When introduced in 2021, the bill, supported by 80 MPs, failed to be approved by the Parliament. However, the war in Ukraine has shifted perspectives regarding the use of cannabis for treating PTSD and other mental health conditions that arise during times of conflict.
But despite the government's revival of support for legalization, the bill has been awaiting approval from the Parliament for over a year.
Initially, the specialized committee on the nation's health decided to finalize the government's draft law. In February 2023, after a second review, they presented a revised version of the bill, which clarified certain provisions.
The new bill separates the production and distribution of medical cannabis from industrial hemp, increasing the THC potency limit from 0.08% to 0.3% in dry weight. Higher THC medical cannabis must be grown exclusively from certified seeds under state supervision. Furthermore, to protect local producers, the proposed measure suggests a prohibition on importing narcotic hemp into Ukraine, except for horticultural or scientific purposes and cannabis-based medicinal products, until at least 2028, as reported by Deutsche Welle.
According to Ukraine's government, as reported by Euronews, more than 60% of its soldiers are suffering from PTSD, and about half of the population needs psychological help to cope with the war.
Before the war, in the run-up to the local elections in 2020, Zelensky sought public opinion on medical cannabis through two local newspapers. The survey asked citizens whether they were in favor of medical cannabis, and the results indicated that about 65% of respondents agreed with the idea. However, it is important to note that the survey itself was unofficial and faced criticism for its methodology and validity.