Significant changes in the regulation of cannabis use have occurred in some countries in Central and Eastern Europe since our last report.
In addition to a number of countries gradually legalising the use of cannabis for medical purposes, increasing efforts by some countries are being seen to also legalise the use of cannabis for recreational use, as well as the use of other products containing various cannabinoids, most importantly cannabidiol (CBD).
Below, we present a summary of recent changes related to the national regulation of this rapidly growing sector across Central and Eastern Europe.
Cannabis for medical use
The use of cannabis for medical treatment has been permitted in the Czech Republic since April 2013. Although it is still strictly regulated, the rules are becoming more relaxed and cannabis for medical use is now more accessible.
Certain restrictions apply on the prescription of cannabis for medical use: (i) the strains of cannabis that can be prescribed, i.e. Cannabis indica and Cannabis sativa L.; (ii) the types of medical problems it can be used for (mainly as a supportive treatment to relieve symptoms associated with serious illnesses); (iii) the amount that can be prescribed (180 grams of dried cannabis for medical use per person per month); and (iv) the areas of expertise required from physicians authorised to prescribe medical cannabis. According to publicly available information, prescriptions of medicinal products containing cannabis increased by 50% in 2022 compared to the previous year.
Growing medical cannabis is only permissible on the basis of a licence granted by the State Institute for Drug Control. The licence may be granted to any applicant that fulfils the statutory requirements (unlike previously where only one operator could be granted a licence for growing cannabis). Medical cannabis may also be imported and is subject to strict import control rules similar to the other addictive substances.
Currently, 90 percent of the cost of an individually prepared medicinal product containing medical cannabis in a quantity not exceeding 30 grams per month is covered by public health insurance.
Recreational use of cannabis
The recreational use of cannabis is not yet legal, although it is widely tolerated in the country unless used excessively. At the moment, an expert group appointed by the Czech government is working on a draft law that should legalize recreational use of cannabis. However, very different views are still found amongst experts and politicians on how the regulation should look – so we expect a very long discussion and it is not yet clear whether, and if so when, the new regulation will enter into force.
Other products containing cannabinoids
In the Czech Republic, the current statutory limit of THC content for industrial hemp is 1%, which is far above the typical limit set by many other countries. Hemp may be freely marketed and used in the Czech Republic without any permission or licence. The only obligation is to notify the competent customs authority of the cultivation of hemp over an area of more than 100 sq m.
In recent years, the popularity of some other products containing cannabinoids, in particular CBD, has grown significantly. Various products containing CBD are widely available in the Czech Republic, such as cosmetics, oil and tinctures.
In July 2023, an amendment to the Addictive Substances Act was submitted to the Czech parliament, which would subject so-called psychomodulants (including many cannabinoids, such as HHC) to stricter supervision, but the fate of this proposal is presently uncertain.
Cannabis for medical use
Cannabis is classified in Bulgaria as a plant constituting a high risk to public health due to the harmful effect of its abuse, and it is prohibited for use in human and veterinary medicine.
More specifically, the Act on Narcotic Substances and Their Precursors also bans the cultivation, production, processing, trade, storage, import, export, re-export, transit, transfer, transport, supply, acquisition, use and possession of cannabis. However, this is subject to two notable exceptions, namely when:
(i) the cultivation of cannabis is intended for fibre, seeds for animal feed and sowing, provided the plants contain less than 0.2 per cent of THC; or
(ii) limited quantities of cannabis are used for medical, scientific or laboratory research, for educational purposes, as well as for maintaining the ability of dogs uncovering narcotic substances.
The activities under (i) and (ii) above are subject to separate licences, which are issued by the Minister of Agriculture and the Minister of Health, respectively. The maximum cannabis quantity allowed for the medical purposes as per item (ii) is 30,000 grams. The plants grown must be of varieties entered in the Official Variety List of the Republic of Bulgaria and/or in the Common Catalogue of Varieties of Agricultural Plant Species of the European Union, or of varieties for which authorisation has been granted by the Minister of Agriculture.
A draft amendment to the Act on Narcotic Substances and Their Precursors is currently being considered by the National Assembly of the Republic of Bulgaria. Тhe amendment introduces new rules regarding cannabis and its production, specifically enabling the cultivation of cannabis intended for the production of non-psychoactive products with a weight percentage less than 1%. Interest in industrial cannabis is increasing and the amendments, if passed by the National Assembly, will represent a further step forward for the legalised usage of the cannabis.
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