Poland: Cannabis for everyone? – TBEN – 11/23/2022

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When asked where he gets his cannabis from, Piotr grins and asks if TBEN wants the official or the unofficial version. He says he will only tell the unofficial – that is the real – version, under a pseudonym. Therefore, Piotr is not the man’s real name. He says he has to be careful: “I’ve waited so long to smoke legally, I don’t want to risk it.”

Since 2000, Polish drug laws have been among the strictest in Europe. Individuals who possess marijuana – the dried bud of the hemp plant – risk arrest, prosecution and conviction. Piotr says it is very liberating for him to be able to legally buy cannabis now.

A friend referred him to one of several clinics in Poland that specialize in the use of medical marijuana. Piotr described a number of alleged health problems when filling out his first online form: headaches, migraines, backaches, insomnia, work-related stress. When asked if he’s really sick, Piotr replies with a laugh, “Sometimes I get headaches, but I don’t think it’s chronic migraines.”

After filling out his form, Piotr had a video appointment with a doctor who gave him a prescription for medical marijuana and explained how to take the drug: with a vaporizer, at a specific temperature – so as not to release carcinogens give, but only properties beneficial to the patient’s health.

Pyotr calmly listened to the doctor’s advice. But once his prescription for 10 grams of medical marijuana was filled at the pharmacy, he smoked it back at home as he always had, as a way to relax. He admits that the cannabis from the dispensary is “better than what I used to buy”.

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The bud of a hemp plantImage: photo alliance/NurPhoto

The liberalization of drug laws in Poland is just a coincidence

The distribution and use of cannabis for medical purposes became legal in Poland in 2017. In 2021, doctors across Poland were writing about 3,000 marijuana prescriptions per month.

But how many prescriptions go monthly to patients who really need medical marijuana, and how many to others who pretend to be sick to access cannabis?

“That’s hard to say,” explains Andrzej Dolecki, president of the Free Hemp movement, one of the oldest organizations in the fight for decriminalization and legalization of marijuana in Poland. “Medical cannabis rules are very liberal, not because politicians designed them that way, but because of their amateurishness.”

In Germany, there are a number of criteria that must be met before obtaining a prescription for cannabis, just like in the Czech Republic. Poland, however, has no catalog of diseases, nor restrictions regarding the age of the patient, the amount of grams prescribed or regarding driving. “As a result, you could theoretically prescribe half a ton of cannabis to a child with a toothache — all legally,” said Dolecki.

Nevertheless, a quick internet search shows that Polish doctors do indeed look at a number of factors, such as mental illness or age, before prescribing medical marijuana.

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Protesters march with a large banner calling for the legalization of cannabis in Poland
Protesters have been calling for cannabis legalization for yearsImage: Artur Widak/photo alliance/NurPhoto

Widespread cannabis use in Poland

In a 2020 poll conducted for the National Bureau of Drug Prevention, 7.8% of Poles under the age of 34 said they had used cannabis at least once in the past 12 months. That number could be higher given that the strict illegality of marijuana possession in Poland may make some people less likely to admit to using it.

Polish police data published in 2018 showed that 89% of all drug cases involved light possession. Further analysis of that data by Krzysztof Krajewski, a professor of criminology at Jagiellon University in Krakow, found that 79% of all arrests involved possession of three grams of cannabis or less. According to Dolecki, Polish judges have handed down about a million drug possession convictions since the introduction of stricter laws in 2000.

The police, it seems, are clearly less focused on arresting dealers or breaking up criminal gangs than on chasing people who illegally purchase cannabis for personal use. If such individuals are convicted, they will have difficulty finding work or traveling abroad due to their criminal record.

Cannabis increasingly popular in Poland

The image of cannabis has actually been changing for years. Products made from natural hemp, such as oils, creams and teas, are becoming increasingly popular. These have a very low level of psychoactive THC and are rich in legal cannabidiol (CBD). In the pharmacy you often see them packaged in beautifully designed boxes and it is almost impossible to imagine an organic trade fair without hemp products.

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Possession of cannabis for personal consumption also enjoys the support of a majority of Polish citizens. In two major national polls in 2020, about 60% of citizens said they were in favor of decriminalization.

A basket of hemp, a horse and a man at the Lublin Regional Museum in Poland
Hemp was first planted in Lublin Regional Museum in 2021Image: Wojtek Jargilo/PAP/photo alliance

Germany as a role model for Poland?

In the Polish parliament, the Sejm, there is now a working group for the legalization of cannabis. It has drafted legislation with changes similar to those currently being proposed in Germany. But at the moment there is little hope that they will ever be adopted, as none of the members of the group belong to the ruling national conservative Law and Justice (PiS) party.

That situation could potentially change after the 2024 parliamentary elections. Legalization advocate Andrzej Dolecki says the most important thing is for Polish leaders to understand that cannabis dependence and excessive consumption are “social health” issues and not “criminal” issues. As an example of how to tackle the problem, he points to the Netherlands, where tax revenue from the sale of cannabis is reinvested in education and prevention programs.

Medicinal cannabis: useful or overhyped?

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This article was translated from German by Jon Shelton.

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