Macedonia Set to Become Next European Country to Legalize Medical Cannabis
The government of Macedonia, a small country in the Balkan region of southeastern Europe, announced this month that it will legalize cannabis for people suffering from serious illnesses. The move means a break from the purely repressive policies that have prevailed in the region for decades.
Macedonia was once one of the largest and most powerful empires in the world, for those who remember reading about Alexander the Great and his famous conquests. Nowadays it's a small inland country in a poor and troubled region. Cannabis laws in the Balkan states are generally repressive and knowledge of the medicinal benefits has been slow to spread among authorities and the general public. But change is in the air.
On May 15, Macedonian health minister Nikola Todorov announced amendments to the Law on Control of Drugs and Psychotropic Substances, making cannabis legal for “people suffering from serious illnesses, such as malignant diseases, multiple sclerosis, HIV, and childhood epilepsy.” Different from other medical cannabis programs around Europe, doctors will, at least in the beginning, prescribe extracts instead of dried herbal cannabis.
To find out more about the proposed changes, Leafly contacted Macedonian legalization activist Filip Dostovski, who lives in the capital city of Skopje. “A few years ago, most Macedonians didn’t know anything about medical uses of cannabis,” he said. “But the word started to spread quickly after we had organized a couple of seminars about the healing properties of cannabis extracts according to Rick Simpson’s method and experiences.” Simpson was living in the nearby Czech Republic at the time. It was real results, not just theory, that changed the minds of people and politicians, according to Dostovski. Thanks to cannabis extracts, hundreds of seriously ill Macedonians were significantly helped or even cured, and among them were a good few politicians and members of justice and law enforcement.
“We are a very small country of two million people where everybody knows everybody and nothing stays secret for a long time. This is the main reason why only 50 percent of Macedonians supported the legalization of medical cannabis some two years ago, while today it is more than 70 percent. And of course, politicians have suddenly realized they need to jump on the legalization train too.”
As for recreational use of cannabis in Macedonia, growing, distributing, and possessing any amount and the use itself is still illegal. “On the other hand, the judges are usually pretty liberal and decide case by case,” said Dostovski, “which means that being caught with smaller amounts will only lead to a a fine in 90 percent of all cases.”
There have been more signs of progress in Central and Eastern Europe recently, with Slovakia—another post-Communist country—finally moving from heavy repression to decriminalization of small amounts of cannabis and other drugs. Following the precedent-setting decision of a regional court in the Slovakian capital of Bratislava, Department of Justice spokesman Peter Bubla announced that “the government will introduce a more effective approach towards illegal substances with regard to distinguishing between small and large amounts and intention of use.”